A recent case has highlighted the scandalous impact of recent legal aid cuts – a good thing.
It has also illustrated the low opinion that some judges seem to have of solicitors – a bad thing.
But firstly let’s look at the case itself. Jennifer Marie Jones was alleged to have been in contempt of court and this was an application for her to be committed to prison. It is fair to say that there are few things more fundamental than the power of the state to deprive a person of their liberty. Ms Jones was not wealthy. In fact she was on low income. But she had a share in two properties which pushed her over the limit for financial eligibility for legal aid even though there was no hope of her raising the necessary cash in time for the court hearing.
She managed to find solicitors – Miles and Partners and a barrister Christopher Hames to represent her free of charge or Pro Bono to use the technical expression much loved by U2 fans –
The case came before Mr. Justice Munby who refused the application to commit her to prison. He also criticised the system that meant she had to rely on the generosity of lawyers willing to act for nothing. He called for something to be done to avoid this situation arising –
‘There is I am told, no other basis upon which public funding can be made available in a case such as this …. If this is really so, it might be thought that something needs to be done,’
He then went on to praise the barrister and the bar for its courageous stands against those in power. He was a little less enthusiastic about the solicitors –
‘The bar I am sure will never fail in its obligation to stand between the Crown and the subject in such a case. And the same goes I am sure for the other profession.’
The other profession? Had he forgotten who they are? Or could he not bring himself to say the words? The solicitors would have been her first port of call. They would have made the decision to represent her free of charge. They would have been the ones managing the entire case including finding a barrister willing to do waive any fees.
This case is an excellent example of solicitors and barristers working together to try and protect a person’s liberty. The case itself shows the shocking effects of rules which exclude people from state funded legal advice – even where the state itself is the other party.
But the whole impact is a bit diluted by the judge’s apparent reluctance to acknowledge the role of all of those who acted for her.
Recent campaigns for justice have seen an encouraging unity across the profession.
Comments like this do not really help.