Access to Justice

The CMA produced a report some time ago about the “need” for greater transparency in the legal market.

This is “code” for “there really ought to be more competition so that legal services are cheaper because people tell us they think legal services are expensive and we need to improve access to legal services and our previous attempts have failed in that we tried to encourage innovation and competition through new entrants (known as Alternative Business Structures) but they havent taken up the challenge because there is too much regulation.”

The Legal Services Board promotes this dream of competition and innovation and has insisted taht the various legal regulators make sure it happens.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has gone for this with some gusto and is suggesting that Solicitors could work for non-regulated bodies so the Solicitor would be regulated but the body might not be and in that way people might be able to access legal advice at a reasonable fee.

None of these organisations address the real issue. Successive Governments have cut legal aid. They have cut the scope of legal aid (ie limited the legal issues for which it is available) and have restricted the financial criteria (ie the income and capital limits have been reduced above which a person cannot get legal aid) and have cut the fees payable to a solicitor or barrister who undertakes such work and introduced a whole series of fixed fees so not matter how much work one does on a file one is paid a fixed fee.

Legal aid gives people power to challenge big business, local authorities, Government and all the institutions of the State.

In a recent Law in Action interview the current Lord Chancellor (who has only just been appointed) got it wrong when he said that legal aid would have been available to the residents of Grenfell Tower in relation to safety issues but no-one applied for it. In fact it isn’t available for anyone in relation to housing safety issues UNLESS there is a disrepair issue which raises an issue about a serious safety matter-which didn’t apply in the Grenfell Tower situation. This explains why no-one applied for legal aid (on which point he was entirely correct).

Legal Aid has been attacked for years as a gravy train for lawyers. As an unworthy assistance to unworthy people who should fund their own cases or who should rely upon the State’s decisions because the State makes correct decisions which shouldn’t be challenged. However statistics in relation to “fit for work” cases show a different picture. People who have the benefit of legal aid can assert their rights. Legal Aid is granted by an independent body The Legal Aid Agency and there are strict rules (quite rightly). Too many people who crticise legal aid dont know how it works or how it is granted and don’t know that only certain law firms can apply for it on behalf of clients or indeed that it is not paid at an hourly rate but on a fixed fee basis.

The problem is that someone somewhere decided the legal aid spend should be controlled and limited and so cuts were made. The myth was created that legal aid had gone beyond what was originally intended for it (which is a lie), that it was easily obtained (another lie) for weak cases (another lie) and that others were held to ransome by the person with legal aid (not in my experience). This means people cannot enforce their rights and so there is limited and resticted access to Justice which means the rich can take whatever legal action they wish but the rest of Society cannot. How can this be justified?

The current BIG LIE is that the UK is awash with whiplash claims and that this must be stopped. However the data and the argument are about as real as the Wizard of Oz. the ABI has conned the Government and deliberately mis-stated the truth. Here’s the evidence in rebuttal http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/academic-debunks-claim-uk-whiplash-capital-europe

And if someone not eligible for legal aid (anyone on more than £37,500 a year) has to pay for their own representation, a nasty shock awaits: even if the defendant is acquitted of all charges, there is now no automatic reimbursement of costs. To recoup anything, such defendants must first apply for legal aid, be rejected, and hire a lawyer privately; yet upon acquittal they can then claim back costs only at legal aid rates.

Since the CPS unusually instructed senior Treasury Counsel in his case, Mr Evans understandably felt obliged to use representation of equal quality. I understand that he has been left with a £100,000 bill for which no refund is available, despite his acquittal. If he and his fellow MPs believe that to be unjust, they might want to have a word with their parliamentary colleague who seemingly supports the principle of making defendants pay for the privilege of being found not guilty: the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling

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