Farron and Lamb respond to questions from Liberal Democrat Lawyers

The Lib Dem Lawyers’ Association asked our leadership candidates Tim Farron and Norman Lamb a number of questions to probe their positions on key legal issue debates. First off we asked about the rule of law as a liberal principle and as you might expect received positive responses. On all our questions both candidates gave good responses, though sometimes with a different emphasis – you can read the responses in full here. There were a number of themes:-

On Access to Justice both took anti-LASPO (the legislation which cut back the scope of civil legal aid) positions – although both at the time voted for the legislation, Norman said “We were wrong…. this was quite possibly our biggest mistake in the last government” whilst Tim said “I don’t think anyone could now defend the LASPO Act’s reforms and we need to think again.” As someone who lobbied all our MPs incessantly on this issue, I’m pleased to hear that, although much damage to free legal advice sector has already been done. On criminal legal aid, Norman also spoke about “modernising the criminal justice system” whist Tim spoke about “ending the deserts in provision.”

We also asked about court and tribunal fee systems imposed to reclaim the business costs of running the courts and received rather different responses; Norman saying “We should reclaim the cost of our Courts and Tribunals system through user fees wherever we can – but they must be reasonable” and Tim saying “I’m against treating the courts as a business.”

On the Secret Courts controversy, Tim gave a short answer – he was against them and voted against them, whilst Norman’s answer was more nuanced reflecting on his position from inside the Government.

Both gave broadly similar answers on Prisons and the criminal justice system about diversion away from prison, with Norman going into much greater depth on drugs policy reform, mental health and youth issues.

Both were also passionate about defending the Human Rights Act, with Tim outlining some campaigning methods and Norman referencing some powerful case studies. On the theme of rights we also asked about ESC (economic, social, cultural) rights and whether the International Covenant should be given any enhanced status in our law – both supported the principle of ESC rights, but had reservations about this as such outcomes should be a matter for democratic, parliamentary and local political decision-making.

We asked about particular areas of law reform they might like to promote – both again mentioned drugs, and Norman addressed mental health detention whilst Tim mentioned company and employment law to democratise the workplace.

Finally we asked about politicians relationship with lawyers – often fraught over recent years; Norman referred to how collaboratively be had been able to work with health professionals whilst Tim said that direct control of the profession by politicians is a potential threat to freedom.

Overall, I’m pleased to say strong liberal answers from strong liberal leadership candidates. You should read their answers for yourself though.

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15 Comments

  • ‘Norman saying “We should reclaim the cost of our Courts and Tribunals system through user fees wherever we can – but they must be reasonable” and Tim saying “I’m against treating the courts as a business.”’

    I picked the right one, then. Courts, like rail track, are a natural monopoly. While having private provision WITHIN the justice system is fine, treating the system itself as a private business is dodgy in the extreme IMHO.

  • John Tilley 4th Jul '15 - 10:46am

    What Jennie said!

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 4th Jul '15 - 8:06pm

    Jennie and John – are you suggesting we abolish court fees altogether?

    I disagree with the increase implemented by the coalition but I don’t see how more modest fees are objectionable as a matter of principle.

  • Sammy O'Neill 5th Jul '15 - 12:50am

    The only court fees I currently think are unreasonable are those for employment tribunal claims, which should be dropped as a priority. County Court fees are not excessive (though perhaps the current bands need some revision as it seems bizarre that the cost substantially increases at such small intervals in places) nor are those for the High Court/Family Courts. I don’t think Norman, or indeed anyone at all has suggested treating the Courts as a business. But realistically they have costs and these need to be met. Is paying £105 to sue someone for £2000 excessive? Not really. Given all of the admin, postage costs, cost of the judge, cost of notifying credit agencies of CCJ’s, dealing with correspondence, maintaining/heating the buildings, keeping the computer systems going etc I don’t think it’s an unreasonable sum at all.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jul '15 - 1:34am

    I’m confused. Do people have to pay fees up front in order to use civil courts? The idea strikes me as hideously right wing, yet we talk about it as though it is normal? I don’t mind people being charged if they lose the case, but the fees shouldn’t be charged up front.

    Regards

  • Sammy O'Neill 5th Jul '15 - 2:43am

    @Eddie

    Yes the claimant pays the appropriate fee when they file the claim, except if they are eligible for fee remission on the grounds of meeting certain eligibility requirements e.g. being on particular benefits. Realistically, the vast majority of people will pay the full fee though. The fee is then added on to the value of the claim the individual is bringing. So say I was suing someone for £2000, the paperwork the other side would get sent would say £2105 in total as the court fee would be added to the alleged debt. If I win the case at all , I get the fee paid for by the other side as part of the court order. If I lose entirely, I get nothing back.

    I suspect the rationale for charging up front is that trying to collect if afterwards may be rather difficult and be difficult to enforce.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jul '15 - 3:54am

    Thanks Sammy. I just think that if people are not pursuing justice because of the cost of it then we will have all kinds of negative outcomes. I absolutely don’t want legal professionals working on the cheap, I just think the state should pay for at least a minimum amount.

  • @Sammy O’Neill, without suggesting that your point is completely unreasonable, I do have to say that it does suffer from a problem that many a Lib Dem has, which is that we often forget things such as ‘excessive’ very much relative to the individual using them.

    Whilst for many individuals, £105 feels like a bearable sum/risk, to some it will seem like a pittance and to others it will seem like all that they have. This is something we need to bear in mind when discussing things such as court fees because for some people the risk of losing £105 is a risk they simply and literally cannot afford to take.

    This is, of course, why we have taxes in the modern day; everyone pools a little something into society, so that society can a bigger something back for all. Sadly, the idea this idea is so unpopular in the political world that even the Lib Dems no longer seem to remember it.

  • > if people are not pursuing justice because of the cost of it
    >then we will have all kinds of negative outcomes.

    It’s already happened. As the legal aid pot shrinks so the number of victims of our justice system increases : http://www.theguardian.com/law/datablog/2014/sep/09/legal-aid-in-england-and-wales-what-is-changing

    Look at the numbers through the family courts. That’s mainly Dad’s fighting to see their kids once a week – the number nearly halved over 12 months, that’ll be nearly double the number of kids not seeing a parent. I believe this is the worst social ill the coalition bestowed on us, most people have yet to witness it, but in our lives we’ll all know someone whose outcomes were changed negatively by it.

  • richard boyd OBE DL 5th Jul '15 - 8:12pm

    Having just retired, after 15 years on Employment Tribunal, and sitting on over 100 cases in the past 3 years, I am and was ashamed at the Lib Dem involvement in setting employment tribunal fees ( way above those of civil actions) and the blind spot of seeing successful claims not honoured. The average claim, by an unrepresented employee, typically a care worker, or low paid manual worker, was about £600 to cover unpaid notice, holiday pay, or no reference ( effectively depriviing them of getting a new job quickly,). Those that “won” ( ie got justice ) had a 40% change of actually getting their award. The costs to bring their case? over a £1000! Only recently was that cost recovered by the Court directly from the “loser” .

  • richard boyd OBE DL 5th Jul '15 - 8:14pm

    Having just retired, after 15 years on Employment Tribunal, and sitting on over 100 cases in the past 3 years, I am and was ashamed at the Lib Dem involvement in setting employment tribunal fees ( way above those of civil actions) and the blind spot of seeing successful claims not honoured. The average claim, by an unrepresented employee, typically a care worker, or low paid manual worker, was about £600 to cover unpaid notice, holiday pay, or no reference ( effectively depriving them of getting a new job quickly,). Those that “won” ( ie got justice ) had a 40% chance of actually getting their award. The costs to bring their case? over a £1000! Only recently was that cost recovered by the Court directly from the “loser” .It was a mess!

    Well said Tim!

  • Kevin Manley 5th Jul '15 - 10:46pm

    Sticks in the craw a bit for them both to have voted for LAPSO and now say, shortly after the election, that it was a “mistake”. Itwas obvious at the time what damage LAPSO would do and there were high profile campaigns by the Law Society and others – did Tim and Norman etc just choose to ignore all of that?

    Seems there are a lot of “mistakes” this party’s MPs made during Coalition in exchange for a few scraps from the table as a result of which the party is now facing an existential crisis.

  • Paul Butters 7th Jul '15 - 4:23pm

    @Kevin – To be fair Tim voted against secret courts and made the case with Lib Dem lawyers

  • Nick Cotter 7th Jul '15 - 9:35pm

    As a criminal defence lawyer of 20+ years standing where the “Industry” has faced cut after cut after cut I would say the criminal justice “system” is in terminal decline.
    No one cares, and there are No votes in criminals (alleged).
    Most of the population want “THEM” locked up.
    Any suggestion that we have the Best Justice system in the world is now risible.
    Too Late to suggest voting for LASPO was wrong – it’s now (patently) here to stay.
    Criminal legal aid rates have NOT in 20 yrs, they were further cut by 8.75% a year ago, and are about to be cut by another 8.75%.
    I Will as per GOVE suggests provide some “Pro-Bono” Advice : Don’t get “accused” “arrested” or “charged” with a crime Unless you have plenty of £ in the bank to defend your reputation !!!
    Nick Cotter Crown Court Solicitor Advocate.

  • Nick Cotter 7th Jul '15 - 9:36pm

    “Increased” …………………………

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