A few blogs ago I raised the question about whether lawyers should pay a levy to cover the cost of access to justice following the abolition of legal aid. The proposal had come from the Law Centres’ Federation who said that if every solicitor paid £25.00 a year that this would fund the provision of a lawyer in every Law Centre thus opening the door for many to free legal assistance.
The proposal seems to be popular with the public who recently voted in favour of the idea in a Guardian poll –
But having thought about it I’m afraid I do have major concerns. I also take on board the thoughful observation of Patrick Torsney at -
That is nothing to do with paying the £25.00. I would happily pay that ensure that people of limited means get access to lawyers. Indeed I would encourage any of my colleagues to get involved in any voluntary initiatives. In Liverpool we are hoping to put on a sponsored walk later in the year to raise funds for a charity which funds pro bono, or to you and me, free legal work. Many lawyers and their firms already do huge amounts of free work.
No – my main concern is that the element of compulsion makes it a tax on lawyers to fund legal work. Why should one professional group be forced to pay for work, which benefits the whole community? Would anybody suggest that doctors should pay a surcharge to fund the NHS or teachers pay extra to fund education? Why should those who are committed to a sector then be called upon to fund it?
This proposal overlooks the responsibility upon society as a whole to look after the most vulnerable. If a £25 charge on lawyers would fund law centre lawyers then it would cost the population pennies. This was the whole idea behind the legal aid scheme which provided assistance for those in need at a relatively low cost to the country. I have been a regular critic of the cuts. If the profession ends up paying the government can look upon it as a job well done.
That is my main objection.
This must not be seen as a substitute for a properly funded legal aid scheme accessible to all. The political argument must continue. It may be popular with guardian readers but does that make it right?