Saturday 22 June 2013

Graphs at a glance: Are swingeing cuts to legal aid needed because the cost is ballooning out of control? Actually the Legal Aid bill has been falling for years.

The wealthy live more opulently than the poor. But generally speaking the expensively dressed wealthy don't themselves benefit from the tatty outfits of their less well heeled fellow citizens. Indeed, when they are able the wealthy take the trouble to dress their servants very well. 

Old bangers breaking down on the road don't really make the man in his £50k motor car feel better. Broken down crocks just cause traffic jams to infuriate rich and poor alike. 

Few people take active pleasure in the poverty of others. They enjoy the inequality in the form of their own comfort, and just ignore the discomfort of the rest.

This is true with clothes and jewelry and houses and cars. It is true with private education and health. The wealthy buy their privileges. The principal benefit to the wealthy few of the poor services meted out to the majority is low taxes.

But this is not true of justice. Justice denied to one is justice escaped by another. The withdrawal of legal aid will mean those who can't afford to pay for their justice will not be able to afford to pursue those who can. According to a BBC report:

"The government is removing funding from entire areas of civil law. They include:

  • Private family law, such as divorce and custody battles
  • Personal injury and some clinical negligence cases
  • Some employment and education law
  • Immigration where the person is not detained
  • Some debt, housing and benefit issues"
The BBC's list does not include the cuts for criminal cases, which are in addition to the above.

To justify pulling legal aid, we are told a host of fibs about how it is 'ballooning' out of control. So we looked around, and found some data in a report by the parliamentary select committee responsible for Justice:

1) Has the Legal Aid cost been ballooning? No: it has been falling since 2004:

2) Is this because the number of cases has been falling? No, they have been rising. In spite of rising number of cases since 2004, the costs have NOT been rising:

3) Is the legal aid money pouring into the pin-striped pockets of legal fat-cats? No: according to the Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff the average earnings of a legal aid lawyer are £25,000 per year.

4) Are the cuts in legal aid cutting waste and inefficiency? No: the Ministry of Justice itself admits they are simply saving money by cutting our rights to justice:

"In seeking to learn how best to reduce costs from other jurisdictions, Ms Albon [Director for Civil, Family and Legal Aid Policy at the Ministry of Justice] admitted that the Ministry of Justice had found it "difficult to find some other area, look at it and think they are providing a much better and cheaper service than us. Mostly, when they are spending a lot less, it is because they are buying a lot less."[41]"

The withdrawal of Legal Aid will provide more than just lower taxes for the wealthy. It will benefit big people and organisations who would rather not face little people as equals in the eyes of the Law. 


  1. The Independent newspaper reports:
    "Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in U-turn: Defendants on legal aid will still be able to choose their solicitor"

  2. BBC reports:
    "Government plans to cut legal aid in criminal cases have been criticised by an elite group of barristers used by it to prosecute the most serious crimes.

    Treasury Counsel, appointed by the attorney general, said the cuts - £220m from a yearly budget of £1bn for criminal cases - were unsustainable.

    Maura McGowan QC, chairwoman of the Bar, said: "Over a period of several months, we have entered into conversations with government openly and honestly to try to find a resolution on legal aid which would protect the justice system.

    "It is now clear that the government has never sought to match that intention.

    "It is hard to avoid the conclusion that it has put cuts before justice.

    "What we have seen instead is the denigration of thousands of members of the profession, who work hard in the public interest, whether in civil or criminal courts, and have had to endure deeper cuts than anywhere else in the public sector."

  3. BBC reports:
    "Government claims publicly-funded barristers earn £84,000 a year were potentially misleading, the head of the UK Statistics Authority has said.

    In a critical letter to the Ministry of Justice, Sir Andrew Dilnot said the government ignored lower estimates to justify £220m cuts to the legal aid budget in England and Wales."

  4. BBC reports:
    "A judge has halted a serious fraud trial after defendants claimed they could not get adequate representation because of cuts to legal aid.

    Judge Anthony Leonard told Southwark Crown Court that the defence had made "very substantial... but unsuccessful" efforts to find barristers to fight the defendants' case.

    It would be a "violation" of the legal process to allow the case to proceed, he added."

  5. Guardian reports:
    "Plans to cut criminal legal aid in doubt after court ruling
    High court victory for solicitors after government consultation process is ruled 'so unfair as to amount to illegality'

    Government plans for cutting criminal legal aid by £220 million have been thrown into confusion after the high court ruled that the Ministry of Justice consultation process was so unfair that it was illegal.

    The decision is a significant setback for Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, who was in charge of negotiations with the legal profession that led to 17.5% cuts in fees and reductions in the number of duty contracts for solicitors to attend courts and police stations.

    Mr Justice Burnett ruled that the process was "so unfair as to amount to illegality". He said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) refused to allow those engaged in the consultation process on the cuts to comment on reports by the accountants KPMG and Otterburn, which provided the foundation for deciding how many contracts for criminal advisory work would be available to solicitors' firms."

  6. Guardian reports:
    "Legal aid cuts denied mother a fair hearing, says senior judge
    ‘If legal aid is being refused to people such as this, I am satisfied that injustices will occur,’ say family court judge Louise Hallam

    A senior family court judge has condemned the injustice of the newly pared-back legal aid system after an illiterate mother of four, with poor sight and hearing, was forced to represent herself in a court hearing over the custody of her children.

    In an unusual step, Judge Louise Hallam warned that the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was not being given the opportunity of a fair trial and that she believed others around the country were also being let down.

    Hallam told the hearing: “If legal aid is being refused to people such as this, I am satisfied that injustices will occur … Mothers in her situation should have proper and full access to the court with the assistance of legal advice.”

    Parents involved in custody battles are no longer eligible for legal aid following cuts imposed by the justice secretary Chris Grayling in April last year. As a result, tThe number of parents in cases involving children without legal representation has since jumped by 48%.""

  7. LocalGovernmentLawyer reports:
    "The President of the Family Division is to consider whether to require a local authority, the legal aid fund or the Courts and Tribunal Service to meet the costs of parents with learning disabilities who do not have legal aid for adoption proceedings concerning their son.
    The case of D (A Child) relates to whether the boy, D, should live with the parents or, if they cannot adequately look after him, with other members of his family, or should he (as Swindon Council argues) be adopted outside the family.

    Decisions about what should happen were not the issue before Sir James Munby at a hearing on 8 October, however. “What I have to grapple with is the profoundly disturbing fact that the parents do not qualify for legal aid but lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation in circumstances where, to speak plainly, it is unthinkable that they should have to face the local authority's application without proper representation,” the President said."

  8. National Audit Office statement on Legal Aid Cuts:

    "In implementing the reforms, the Ministry did not think through the impact of the
    changes on the wider system early enough. It is only now taking steps to understand
    how and why people who are eligible access civil legal aid. The Ministry needs to
    improve its understanding of the impact of the reforms on the ability of providers to meet
    demand for services. Without this, implementation of the reforms to civil legal aid cannot
    be said to have delivered better overall value for money for the taxpayer."

    Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 20 November 2014

  9. National Audit Office: A quarter of Legal Aid providers have been sub-standard.

    "The quality of legal advice provided (whether the advice was correct) – Quality of legal advice is assessed through a mixture of targeted and random peer reviews; most reviews are targeted. A high proportion of the firms fail these. In 2013-14, 32% of targeted firms and 23% of firms selected at random failed the review. This is a reduction on 2012-13 when 41% of non-targeted and 28% or targeted firms failed."


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