Monday, 8 April 2013

Legal Aid reforms - fundamentally misguided.

I steer well clear of examining political and legal issues in religious or ethical terms.  These are very much matters of personal conviction and opinions differ in the extreme.  However, I was particularly struck by a post on the renowned blog run by Archbishop Cranmer, which you can read here:

Brother Ivo blogs on Legal Aid

 It's difficult for me to add anything much to what is very eloquently set out here.  The Churches have recently pontificated on welfare spending and cuts in benefits.  I suppose to some modest extent there might be some argument that Holy Writ places a burden on society to provide material support to the destitute and deprived, but this falls well short of prescribing the extent of that support and the manner in which it should be delivered.  However, following Brother Ivo's exposition, I can easily see how the Church can properly have major issues about the withdrawal of legal aid from so many areas of our justice system.

I confess that recently I have been distinctly irritated by a few cases where I have encountered legally aided opponents.  Cases where single issues have been the subject of completely unnecessarily wide ranging enquiry.  Cases where applications of no merit whatsoever have been issued and pursued.  However, irritating and inappropriate as these have been, to react by barring access to legal advice to all but the very well off is entirely disproportionate and is entirely counterproductive.

The truth is that the involvement of good lawyers, especially in family disputes, is of immense value in sorting out otherwise intractable problems.  To leave judges and magistrates without any effective access to other team members, who can set to work outside court to enable parties to see sense and negotiate a route out of their relationship, is not going to save money, it's just going to transfer the cost elsewhere.  The cost will now be incurred in a court system which is already desperately under-resourced and unable to provide a proper service.  In one very prominent court, it is already taking at least three months to secure a one hour hearing.  Justice delayed, I remind you, is justice denied.

This doesn't just apply to the legally aided party, by the way.  As unrepresented parties clog up the courts - and they most certainly will do that - the queue the privately paying parties will find themselves in will be that much longer and slower, and already it's too long and slow.  The person paying top dollar for the best legal representation will find that their cases are every bit as slow moving as everyone else's.  Yes, I am carrying on in the frontline of litigation but I can see that it's going to be even more distressing for my clients than it has been up until now.

P.S.  Just to move from the abstract to the particular, there's this post over at Researching Reform:

What happens when.....

This seems to be a real life example of things getting out of control, with no obvious recourse for the parents to help them identify where to turn for advice and help.

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