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This morning, @paulwaugh chaired a #fringe meeting at #Lab11, as part of a series of non-partisan panel discussions to promote awareness of the new Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill. He started off the morning’ proceedings by introduing a @soundoffjustice video about the personal impact of #legalaid cuts to begin, #lab11 #fringe. The panel this morning consisted of Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, Vice President of the Law Society, Steve Hynes from the Legal Action Group (Justice For All Coalition; please listen to @charonqc’c podcast), and Andy Slaughter MP (Labour MP for Hammersmith and Fulham). The event was hosted by DODS, and chaired by Paul Waugh (Editor of PoliticsHome.com).
The video presented the wider impact on children and families, explaining that these cuts were hitting the most vulnerable people in society, at their most vulnerable time. The presentation, consisting of personal stories, emphasized that the legal aids are not a ‘cost saving’ at all, and may end up costing money in the long run.
Steve Hynes explained that the campaign is highly dependent on parliamentaries. The video demonstrates the decimation of civil law, leading to 50% of the service disappearing. This gives the impression that the legal aids are in fact ideologically-driven. Steve explained the need for the campaign to pick its ground. Jackson never wished to preside over the reforms with the cuts occurring. The report from LJ Jackson indeed is very comprehensive as reported by @TheLawyerKaty. Medical negligence is one such area. Steve Hynes thinks that amendments are possible in social welfare for law, involving the higher tribunals, in the House of Lords. The Tories took the view that the higher tribunals were considering conflicts of facts, but Steve argued passionately that this is clearly not the case. Steve feel that it must come into scope. Jim Sandbach succeeded in a Liberal Democrat amendment, getting social welfare back into scope.
Their Lordships apparently understand the need for disabled people to have rights. There must be independence in legal aid entitlement, and reforms of the LSC could mean that ministers make judicial reviews of their own departments, which is a nonsense. There should be no bias in decision-making, which will affect the credibility of both ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ decisions. The Coalition considers that it must consider ‘exceptional cases’, but the reality is that 50% of the family living aid firms will be getting out of the legal aid system – it is therefore fine to talk about ‘exceptional cases’, but it is essential to consider what sort of network there is to support legal aid. Labour when it came into power had a vision of the ‘community legal aid service’, which Steve considers to be a good vision, which the ‘Justice for all’ coalition would like to be part of – Steve will fight for concessions, and needs to campaign for the future. This is about maintaining the ‘rule of law’ and can only be achieved through a civil system.
Lucy Scott-Moncrieff considered that ‘there is a hearty need for a good practical response’, but there should be a consideration of the social justice ideals underlying the debate. The proposed cuts undermine the rule of law; no-one is above the law, and the flip side is that nobody is outside the law. The European Court of Human Rights suggest that rights are ‘practical and effective, not theoretical and illusory’. Litigating should be a last resort, as it is complicated and uncertain. Going to lawyers is a good step because they can litigate, and the opposite side take the case more seriously. Non-lawyers do talk about their frustration. Children and adults under the age of 24 (@SoundoffJustice) need help. Lucy remarked that it is a good idea to get this publication off the Law Society website (the Law Society has a very active section of its website devoted to legal aid funding). Lucy cited an example of ‘even a 17-year old would be unable to get support’, ‘a person whose identity was stolen and experienced debt problems’, and ‘a student who was unable to access special educational needs’. Lucy also considered welfare benefits through the example of a person who had been given disability living allowance and needed the welfare benefits to prevent eviction – he did not have the legal and medical knowledge to represent himself optimally.
Furthermore, the criminal justice system also currently relies upon lawyers who can obtain the proper evidence. The Coalition has a responsibility to ‘will the means’, in addition to the rights. The Jackson Reforms must be borne in mind. Legal aid is only a benefit to a very small sample of society. There are lots of people who rely on ‘conditional fee agreements’ – the loser pays the winner costs, and now the winner has pay for his or her own costs. The purpose of damages is to put the person back to the pre-contractual position, but the person is still going to have to pay fees. The “telephone gateway system” does not appear to make intuitive sense, because a person may have difficulty in using a telephone (e.g. a person in ‘community care cases’ in care homes). Where are people going to go if the CAB sytem? They’re going to go to MP surgeries, or councilors. Sound off for justice are continuing to fight.
Lord Willy Bach explained that Labour never threatened the criminal law system as a Labour minister. As a criminal lawyer, Willy feels – in what he has now formulated as ‘the justice gap‘ – that the abolition of criminal law, getting early advice, is ridiculous – as legal aid is meant to address early intervention, upholding defendants’ rights. A lawyer should be able to say whether cases are nonsense, or whether they should progress. It’s practical and moral nonsense. What is the point of ‘rule of law’? The Bill is going to come to the Lords, but the Lords will do their best to mitigate against the effects of poor legislation. Lord Bach urged the need to support the @Soundoffjustice campaign, especially through the use of cros-bench peers or LibDem peers.
Andy Slaughter MP had just done a fringe meeting for the ‘Young Fabians’. The Bill does not have a prescriptive agenda, and is a sense an extension of what has gone before. It might have a rouse to cut the prison population. The Jackson Reforms will cost the public money. The AA have voted against the Jackson reforms, and this is interesting as motorists constitute a large group of consumers. Restricting access to justice, and tipping the system away from private defendants appear to be unfortunate consequences of the Bill when enacted, according to Andy, therefore all the campaigns promoting awareness of the legal aid cuts are worth supporting.
Welcome to the first ever LegalAware podcast. I am sorry for the sound quality. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it’s recorded on a very busy Regents Park Road, which can be busier than the #m6. Secondly, I am still getting used to the #yeti microphone and Audacity. Notwithstanding these problem, Alan (@AlanROYGBIV) joins me for a explanation of the neurological condition of ataxia, which we both have, what Ataxia UK is, and how the welfare benefit cuts are a tragedy for society, including disabled citizens like us.