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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Dismantling Justice for Ordinary People - Job Done?

I almost choked on my coffee this morning!

I opened the latest Law Society Gazette which devotes a number of pages to the Global Law Summit that took place in London last week. What led to the coffee incident, was the quote from Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling where he talked of a thriving legal sector and promised to all he could to promote the right environment for it to thrive! I wondered for a minute if I had turned up on the wrong planet. He also talked about unpopular changes being driven by economic reality.

So I thought it might be useful to see what he and his government have achieved since 2010. I wrote in 2012 that there was a dismantling of Access to Justice for ordinary people –

When it comes to such dismantling it has to be said that he has done this rather effectively. 

So let’s consider just a few of his ‘reforms’ –

First we have had the effective elimination of Legal Aid in civil and family proceedings. I have written about this many times but the injustice beggars belief. Who would ever have thought that the day would come when the Senior Family Judge in England and Wales would have to summons public officials to explain to him who was going to fund the representation of a party to care proceedings in order to avoid a manifest injustice –

These particular cuts have seen the closure of many voluntary agencies that existed to provide legal help to those in greatest need. Even the Housing Charity, Shelter, was forced to close its legal advice service –

I recently attended a meeting at Liverpool County Court. Volunteer workers from CAB and PSU all said that they are stretched to the limit and have nobody that they can send people to for help. It is indeed a Waste Land

Then there have been the relentless attacks on Criminal Lawyers and those who accused of criminal offences ie innocent until proven guilty. Fees have been cut to such a level that none but the most committed would ever be interested in life of crime – so to speak.

Turning to personal injury victims there was the infamous LASPO which saw fees recoverable from insurers and public bodies slashed to unrealistic levels. In almost all cases, victims now stand to lose up to 25% of their compensation to go towards fees. This led to a highly publicised Judicial Review application that ultimately failed –

But the most recent attack is surely the most damaging of all. On Monday 9th March the fees charged by the Court to start proceedings will rise to eye watering levels. As my friend Mike Williamson has pointed out, this represents a hike of 660% in cases involving damages of £200k –

This exceeds, by a country mile, the cost of the administration involved. Can you imagine what Ministers would say if lawyers charged £10,000 for about an hours work? The Law Society has taken Judicial Review proceedings but no one expects a positive outcome.

So is this the environment within which a legal sector is expected to thrive? Who would ever advise their children to take up a career in the law? Running away with a circus seems a far more secure option. Life for unfortunate victims is far worse.

The economic argument is seriously flawed. Most of the so called ‘economies’ are false. The removal of legal aid has seen a massive increase in unrepresented parties, causing trials to take, at least, twice as long.

The most obvious false economy is in relation to the shambolic increase in fees. Statistically, most Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence Claims succeed following commencement of court proceedings. The Claimant has to find the cash up front. But the burden will finally fall on insurers on the NHS. So in the latter case we have the bizarre situation where a £10,000 fee is payable to one Government Department and the burden finally rests with another one! I cannot think of a clearer example of moving deckchairs on the Titanic.

So there we have it. This has been a brief and sketchy journey through the most painful few years that most lawyers can remember.

Far be it from me to make any party political points.

But you wish to bear this sorry tale in mine when deciding where to put your cross on 7th May 2015 or should that be where not to put your cross??


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