Lib Dem lawyers attack legal aid plans

Political Scrapbook this weekend has an open letter from Alistair Webster, the chair of the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association, attacking plans for legal aid:

If the true aim is to leave a skeleton and third rate public legal system, the government should make that clear and we can judge it accordingly … I, for one, do not wish to be ashamed of the Party which I have supported since its foundation. This Bill is dire.

It’s a rather odd letter in some ways – both in its over-the-top rhetoric that is far more likely to put up the backs of the people it should be trying to convince than win them over, and also in the choice to give it to Political Scrapbook, again not the obvious choice of website (excellent though it is) to influence Liberal Democrats in government. You might have thought lawyers would be rather smarter at working out how to convince the people you need to get decision you want…

But regardless of that, it’s an important issue and the letter is in full here.

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  • “both in its over-the-top rhetoric that is far more likely to put up the backs of the people it should be trying to convince than win them over”

    If lib dem ministers are so pathetic that they let over the top rhetoric (btw it isn’t over the top, they are simply telling the truth) stop them from opposing a policy that will hit the poor and most vulnerable, then they don’t deserve to be in government. Attacking the poor, people on benefits, people facing criminal charges is easy. It plays well in the tabloids, in middle England. Defending those people is difficult, it take strong leaders, and statesmen to make the difficult argument. Legal aid was a fundamental part of the welfare state. The law and courts are useless unless they can be accessed by all. Still how could a party whose leaders come from privileged backgrounds possibly understand.

    I think Huhne’s comment on the spiralling cost of heating sums up the appalling out of touch arrogance of Lib Dem ministers People deserve to be ripped off because they are too lazy to get the best deals. Those on benefits like my cousin or without the internet like my grandmother can’t get those best deals. They are facing a winter in which they can’t pay the bills. Of course when they are cut-off, they won’t be able to access the courts, thanks to the pathetic lib dem attack legal aid.

    So instead of picking on the little guy, even with your austerity measures it is the poor who suffer. Why don’t you go after the rich, the bankers who got us into this mess? (no ring fencing till 2015, pathetic, you didn’t wait that long to hit the poor). Why don’t you tax them, and make them suffer? Oh, because they will fightback, they can buy your party and MPs with donations and second jobs. No doubt you will censor this, pretend all is well, until you loose the next election. Oh did I forget to mention, my entire family are Lib Dem voters, or should I say, were Lib Dem voters.

  • It really isn’t an over the top letter-the Government is proposing to take between 500,000-750,000 people out of the scope of legal aid, to cut legal aid to law centres and CAB by 77%, to put certain areas of social welfare law where advice actually saves the state money like in housing, employment, debt and welfare benefits outside the scope of legai aid and to expect people who may be disabled, mentally ill,not speaking English or under 18 represent themselves at every level of court without advice and representation. The letter is pretty mild when you consider this.

  • Bravo, @exdem.

    I am one of those people who were offended by Huhne’s suggestion that I’m too lazy to shop around. Many poor people don’t even have the luxury of buying power without having to have a meter fitted into their homes and then have no choice but to pay extortionate rates. Another problem is winter fuel allowances have been cut and for many people, working or not, myself included, this meant the difference between going cold or going hungry. I honestly have no idea how I will afford to sufficiently heat my home in the next few months. And being disabled, my condition worsens when I cannot keep a decent temperature in my home.

    And @Mark Pack, that is not over-the-top rhetoric at all. A skeleton, bare-bones system is exactly what these cuts will leave behind. I work in this field, helping fellow disabled people and I know what I am talking about. The lawyers are correct. When the legal aid cuts come in, the state will no longer help disabled people to get representation at appeals tribunals, for example. What will happen to these people? They won’t be able to appeal their benefit cuts and will be forced further into poverty.

    People such as Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Huhne don’t have to choose between heating and food in the winter time. They never have to worry about the cost of legal fees. They have no idea what life is like for us plebs who are “too lazy” to shop around for better prices.

  • Old Codger Chris 19th Sep '11 - 11:53am

    Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act we now know that the government accepts that trebelling university tuition fees will cost taxpayers a huge amount of money. So if the government cancels its HE fees reforms (“reforms” as in making things worse) the money saved could be put into the Legal Aid pot.

    Or am I missing something here?

  • James Sandbach 22nd Sep '11 - 12:13pm

    Agree with comments that our concerns about the Legal Aid Bill are not OTT rhetoric given how drastic the reforms are, however as somone involved in LDLA I do get anxious that LDLA always end up advocating for the Bar Council’s agenda – some Barristers do really make a mint from legal aid (£675 million on less than 400 high cost criminal law cases) and this is hard to defend. The real problem with the Government’s Legal Aid Bill is the extent to which the cuts are all targetted on civil legal aid advice – especially CABx/Law Centres which take a 77% cut on services which help the most vulnerable (re housing/debt/benefit problems etc). Ok, there have to be cuts, but a more balanced cuts package should be spread more evenly and fairly accross the sector and seek to protect and prioritise the most vulnerable in society – the Legal Aid Bill does exactly the opposite! All Libdems should be seriously concerned about this. It’s indefensible when cuts go straight for the most vulnerable – in this case disability benefit appeals, support for social tenants and badly treated employees, children in acrimonious divorces etc – when there are other options for reducing the legal aid budget

  • Old Codger Chris 25th Sep '11 - 11:55am

    @James Sandbach
    Can you – or anyone else – explain why going to law has to be so hideously expensive? The lawyers will, for example, be the only winners from the travellers eviction in Essex – the travellers could have bought a whole estate of houses for the money they must have spent (assuming they didn’t get Legal Aid).

    Perhaps there are too many lawyers in politics? While we’re considering all female or ethnic minority shortlists, how about a shortlist from which all lawyers are barred?

  • Cllr Nick Cotter 25th Sep '11 - 9:38pm

    As a solicitor advocate legal aid criminal lawyer defending daily in the Crown Court in the most serious of cases I really do not believe in any way shape or form I fall in to the “fat cat lawyer” category, as for the £675 Million in 400 cases scenario all I can say is : Please can we have more detail ?? and the FACT is that if successive governments bring more and more and more law on to the Statute books then there will be more and more and more court cases ?? Perhaps we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope here ??

    As for rhetoric ?? Perhaps Mr Mark Pack would like to join me on my next 24 hr Police Station Duty Stint (yes I still have to do that to keep my “Duty Solicitor” status), and he might learn about and appreciate how we have to deal with some of the very most vulnerable members of our society ??

    Cllr. Nick Cotter

  • Old Codger Chris 27th Sep '11 - 12:38am

    @Cllr Nick Cotter
    I believe it’s true to say that it’s in the civil field – with or without Legal Aid – that the serious money is made. Is this true?

  • Cllr Nick Cotter 6th Oct '11 - 9:45pm

    Yes Chris – that’s true !!


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