Above the main entrance to The Old Bailey in London, known in more modern times as The Central Criminal Court, is inscribed the admonition, “Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer”
The words come from Coverdale’s translation of Psalm 72 and have great antiquity. The words of course mean more than a cursory read may suggest and embrace the protection of the needy, the poor, the weaker members of our ‘Big Society’, if you will. The wrongdoer is not only the ‘common criminal’. The wrongdoer may include an oppressor and an oppressor can, of course, include the State. We must never be seduced into thinking that the CPS and the State gets all prosecutions right. #twitterjoketrial comes to mind. (Also here: Law Review: Twitter Joke Trial – A travesty… why do we really bother?) I wonder how much that fiasco cost?
We are asked to embrace David Cameron’s idea of a Big Society; to help each other, to reduce government, to hand power to the people and we are being exhorted to hold true to the high moral principles which Britain both aspires to and has been known for. Fine words, fine aspirations and fine sentiments – but essentially meaningless unless backed up with money in a field of human behaviour and endeavour in some respects as important as physical health. A doctor cannot help with legal advice or representation a person undergoing extreme legal pressure or oppression.
The legal system for ‘Big Society” must be independent of government if it is to work. Unfortunately this can’t be cobbled together and funded by donations and cake sales at a village fete in the Home Counties and The Shires on a sunny summer afternoon. It has to be staffed by professionals and that costs money. I suppose we should be thankful that there are no plans to have directly elected judges, ‘district attorneys’ and prosecutors, to save a bit of money. Fortunately, justice minister, Jonathan Djanogly, is too busy cutting like someone out at night on Friday 13th, to read my blog. I would not wish to be credited for putting such an idea into his head.
Who is going to protect the children of the poor, the weaker less advantaged members of society, the innocent, the poor themselves, if legal aid, is to be cut to the bone? – whether Coalition or Labour government, I care not who is the perpetrator of this.
It costs money to fund even the most modest solicitor’s office, fund solicitor’s time or barrister’s time. Those who rely on legal aid tend not to be consulting the City and Commercial law firms – which, however, contribute in their way to our society by providing experienced lawyers who do many thousands of hours of free legal work for those who need help. (I would not wish twitter trolls and head bangers to think I had missed the point that lawyers are ‘fat cats’) Those who rely on legal aid consult lawyers who deal with very real, sometimes very serious and oppressive, legal issues which can seriously affect mental and physical health and even destroy lives.
The Ministry of Justice hopes to save a great deal of money with these reforms. Frankly, I would rather see our countrymen and women get help than see money given in overseas development aid to ease the passage of The Foreign and Britain is Well Hard and Up For Business Office headed by William Hague and promoted heavily by David Cameron. And please… spare me the …we have run out of money bit…. The Ministry of Justice savings are small compared to the money being made available elsewhere… I am advised…. but could have a very serious impact on the lives of many in this country. Yes, we need to make savings, build our country coffers back up – but these cuts could have unintended consequences for the political and moral health of our country and the people who need the help.
I shall write more on this in the coming weeks…and I may even find that some of the proposals – funding personal injury cases through No win, No Fee , for example (which I thought was going to be hammered by Jackson et al?) may not be such a bad idea after all.
I do not practise. I have no axe to grind, no favour financial, political or in career to gain. Nor do I hold a candle for all lawyers here – especially not the bad, lazy, incompetent lawyers who do not do a good job of representing clients but take their shillings. I do wish to support lawyers who do a good job, especially those who have the interests of our justice system and rule of law at heart. So I am not out to feather bed my nest through lobbying. I need not, other than observe the courtesies of good manners, need to be circumspect in my words to power. I am concerned that Ken Clarke’s announcement today on legal aid and justice will have a significant impact on the rights of a great many in this country and impact directly on the enjoyment of life for many who simply cannot afford legal advice and representation.
This is not a technical legal analysis… it my ‘starter for ten’ in what I hope will be a serious, intelligent and reasoned campaign to ensure that we keep British justice alive and well for the people who need it.
I’m sorry that my representation of Justice above – she isn’t blind – is a bit bloodied.
And… if you need a bit of ranting polemic…. when a footballer can get £250,000 a week and is pilloried in the press – superinjunctionless, I assume – for not scoring a lot of goals for his club or country recently, and whose hobby appears to be shagging grannies and tarts, perhaps we need to get a few of our Big Society priorities sorted….and stop all this bollocks about moral compasses and Big Society! (May as well have a ranting polemic from time to time. I blame my reading of the online version of The Sun and the comments at 5.00 am)
and, of course, this…
Legal aid cuts would remove free advice for thousands of people
Guardian: Family, housing and immigration among the areas from which free legal advice may be withdrawn