Listen to playlist of songs about Legal Aid here
Or check out Tom Robinson at Justice AllianceRally (outside Old Bailey) here
With another MOJ consultation on revised legal aid proposals to engage with, it is also time to engage with Political Parties during Party Conference season, and make the case for elected representatives to stand up for Legal Aid. Labour has an opportunity to position themselves as champions of Legal Aid, and choosing to debate Legal Aid at their conference in Sunday’s ballot would be an encouraging start. Those with Labour Party affiliations can ask their constituency parties to choose the Legal Aid Motion. Those on twitter can support @FightBach who is seeking to persuade labour delegates so to do, and @savejusticeuk
(Post Conference UPDATE -See at *** below for result of ballot)
Campaign update- lawyers campaign meeting Tuesday 1st October Justice for Sale
Legal Aid in Criminal Cases has been systematically cut, firstly by the last Labour Government, and then by the current Coalition.
The Appointment of the wretched, legally illiterate, lawyer-hating Chris Grayling as Lord Chancellor was a sure sign that the Government wanted a hatchet man as political front for a Ministry of Justice consultation that promised further savings through cuts and the introduction of Price Competiive Tendering. These proposal were universally condemned as likely to reduce quantity and quality of solicitors firms, reduce access to justice, and increase risk of miscarriages of justice. A vigorous campaign was mounted, which succeeded in unifying solicitors and barristers. For the solicitors side, the LCCSA (of which I am currently a committee member) spearheaded the London campaign -see the link here for info on the Justice for Sale campaign, and short films setting out the faults of PCT and the backlash. (Or my previous blog)
More recently, campaigning groups have joined together to support legal aid under the umbrella group Justice Alliance
Other groups have brought a different perspective. The secretive “big Firms Group”, representing the interests of the partners/owners of some of the larger Criminal Practices, had their own meetings with the MOJ, and also had the ear of the Law Society.
The Law Society (professional body for solicitors) has had a mixed record. On record as opposing PCT, they simultaneously offered a training course on how to bid for a contract post PCT. Then recently they “triumphantly announced the “death of PCT” in a deal which saw much of the original contracting proposals thrown out, settling instead for a further cut of legal aid rates.* With profit margins in most firms in single figures, this is itself potentially catastrophic, but the problems don’t end there. As lawyers know, the devil is in the detail.
The revised proposals include:-
· Competitive Tender for duty contracts, based on quality and capacity criteria
· 17.5% rate cuts, 2 phases. 8.5% in February 2014, the remainder in 2015
· Single unified national Police Station fee of £200 inclusive of VAT
· Single fee of about £300 for cases in magistrates’ court,regardless of whether guilty plea or fully contested trial
· Crown Court, cases under 500 PPE to be paid under new arrangement
· 30% cut to VHCC rates on new and existing contracts.
click here to go straight to the new MOJ consultation and object to these cuts!
The Conservative Party appear ideologically wedded to the idea that cutting Legal Aid is imperative. However, given that Tory MPs, like the rest of the population, are spoon fed a series of myths and misconceptions about the cost of legal aid, and no information about the consequential costs of cutting it (higher crime, bigger prison budget, correcting miscarriages of justice) it is incumbent on legal aid lawyers and campaigners to engage with and better inform the backbench members.
The Liberal Democrats have traditionally had a sound policy in support of legal aid. **
Maybe LD legal aid policy has been subsumed by the practical realities of Coalition Government. However, MPs were not tested on this, because Grayling managed to spearhead his reforms without the need for a Parliamentary vote. It is noteable however that his henchman for the current slash-and-burn is LD peer Lord McNally.
Notwithstanding that, some backbench Lib Dem MPs have been vocal opponents of the reforms, notably Sarah Teather and Julian Huppert.
And the Party re-asserted its support at the Glasgow conference, firstly by voting to debate Legal Aid and re-assert support for a properly funded system with a motionthat was then supported by Conference vote as reported here
By contrast, check out the unequivocal support for Legal Aid by the Liberal Party (no relation to LibDems) on its website
Labour, who allowed legal aid to be cut in real terms during its last term of office, went into the last election promising to cut legal aid further (2010 manifesto). They also supported a tendering process. Nonetheless, their new found voice opposing PCT and severe cuts is welcome. Strong backbench campaigning by Karl Turner and the excellent Jeremy Corbyn ( (who sits on the Justice select committee) has been supported by encouraging words in the House by Sadiq Khan. What we have yet to see is any of these fine words formulated into policy, or a binding commitment to restore any legal aid cuts that are forced through now. As recently as last year Andy Slaughter was saying there would be further cuts to criminal legal aid by Labour (in LSG article)
Campaigners need to encourage the Party to set out their stall, and pledge to have a properly funded sustainable legal aid system. It would be encouraging if we saw this debated at their Brighton Conference, rather than just left as a “fringe” issue. Most of the agenda is set, but with the ballot on Sunday for further motions, and Legal Aid one of those under consideration, it is a test perhaps of how seriously the Party views Legal Aid . ***,
The campaign to preserve legal aid and protect the integrity of our Justice System continues.
There is a further MOJ consultation to engage with.
But the hardest battle is to keep the issue live, and in the public domain, without succumbing to the negative hysteria of the tabloids keen to promulgate the myth of fat-cat lawyers defending ill-deserving criminals.
Now is the time to engage with Political parties and elected representatives, make a case, and demand from those in Power an end to the Cuts, and those in Opposition a meaningful commitment to preserve Legal aid.
*for an account of the negotiations between Law Society, MOJ and others, see Paul Harris blog here
** LD legal aid policy as amended and approved at Spring Conference Sheffield 2011 here
*** UPDATE – the Labour Party did not choose legal aid as a topic for debate in their ballot.
There was only one mention of legal aid-and that was not criminal legal aid- in this strangely dispiriting speech by sadiq khan
Legal Aid was discussed only at fringe meetings. There was nothing to suggest that any of the current or proposed cuts would be over-turned by an incoming Labour Government (“we in the Labour Party recognise the need for austerity measures” as shadow A-G Emily thornberry said at one fringe event)
I can’t actually find a Labour Party legal aid policy on their website or elsewhere, if someone can direct me to it, I will add to blog