It is a well-known adage that only the very rich and the very poor can afford to go to law, because the poor receive Legal Aid from the public purse. Not only does this give the poor an advantage over middle-income earners, but it is contrary to natural justice. If there is not equal access to the legal process there is injustice.
The legal aid budget is being squandered by inefficient bureaucracy whereby legal aid lawyers turn up in court to find that there is a procedural irregularity that requires further postponement of the case – another day’s pay from the Legal Aid budget for no work at all.
As social workers gain more control of the nation’s children through Named Person’s legislation, more and more middle-income earners will discover their income being reduced as they employ lawyers to fight for their God-given rights to their own children. They will watch in dismay as each court case is postponed to the next. If there are penalties for late trains and late airflights, we need to introduce penalties for postponed court cases. Law-abiding citizens should not be harassed by a social system that expects them ‘to obtain legal advice’ in order to defend themselves against the draconian powers exercised by social workers.
There needs to be equal access to the law, just as we have equal access to health care. We need a National Justice Service like the National Health Service, to be free at the point of access to justice.
As a step in this direction, I suggest that where a person has the right to apply for legal aid, other parties to the process should have a similar right. This will 1. begin to address the injustice, 2. help the legal aid board to assess the probability of success in granting legal aid and 3. reduce the opportunities for abuse of the system.
As for appeals from a decision – the core of a justice system – this may involve not only extra expense in travelling costs and time, hotel fees and the risk of paying hefty legal fees if one loses – but the tricks that lawyers employ to drag out a case (more fees for no work) will ensure the necessity of employing a lawyer who knows how to circumvent the tricks, or at least keep up with them. So justice is not served by such an appeal system – it is itself contrary to natural justice if one must find the funds to employ a lawyer simply to keep abreast of the procedure.
Procedural irregularities are a good way to avoid addressing the issue or at least spinning it out as long as one can milk the system for what it’s worth. This is not justice and it needs reform. It is time to reform legal services and to develop a national natural justice system.
10 May 2017: the leaked Labour Manifesto advocates a National Education Service to provide “cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use” from early years to adult education. “The National Education Service” is the fifteenth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister and was first broadcast 21 January 1988.
17 May 2017: Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, is also promoting a National Investment Bank, which Natalya Naqvi on the Newstatesman website thinks could help to fix ‘our damaging financial system’, but which Oliver Riley on the Adam Smith Institute website thinks is ‘barmy’. Interesting and helpful though the idea is, we need rather to revisit how money is created – instead of creating money by indebtedness to private banks.
15 Jul 2017: I have heard of a case where two lawyers receiving legal aid argue the same case against another lawyer also receiving legal aid. Is this sensible, far less just?
6 Aug 2017: “After food, shelter and health what is more important than justice? … There is no justice if it is not available to everyone”: Tory Peter Reynolds outlines the errors as he sees them in the recent and current Tory Governments.
21 Aug 2017: what would you think if your doctor would not tell you what your options are, but instead he told you to get legal advice simply to know what your options are? You would cry out for reform, for you know that one day you will need a doctor. Many people never have to deal with the law, but when they do then they will discover that in a legal case it is ‘legal advice’ simply to be told your options! Even asking about procedure will sometimes meet with the response to ‘get legal advice’. I would have thought that legal advice is advising which option to choose, but it is part of the cabal of the legal system that you must pay lawyers even to find out what one’s opinions are within the legal system. Why does the system not freely tell a person their options? The answer may be the huge range of options available if you have the money, such as a private dentist can do more for your teeth than an NHS dentist, but there should be an NHS-equivalent level of legal services available to those who are dragged into the legal system by the laws of the land.
31 Aug 2017: Resignation letter by Tory Peter Reynolds, see above: “my article ‘Has There Ever Been A Worse UK Government Than This?’ … has produced the biggest response to anything I have ever written about politics in more than 30 years of journalism.”
20 Mar 2018: the Law Society in England said that too many people were priced out of justice. However, this is being applied to the poor whereas it applies just as much to middle-income families. Lawyers have for long drawn attention to being ‘priced out of justice’ and a means-test, as still recommended by the Law Society, is not the answer. Unequal access to justice is itself contrary to natural justice.
21 Mar 2018: BBC Breakfast news today at 41’00 carries an interview with widow Nadja Ensink about her battle for legal representation at the inquiry into her husband’s murder. The Police and the CPS will have legal representation at that inquest, but the widow of the victim has been refused legal aid. 44’00 “While there have been limitless resources to go into the inquest this summer, Nadja is left to crowdfund to pay for legal representation. This is seen as an inequality of arms by many.”
The lack of access to justice is rising up the agenda. In 2016 the Court of Appeal ruled that the law about legal aid was legally flawed. The Director of Rights of Women said on Woman’s Hour at 5’10 minutes at that time that ‘the Legal Aid regulations were unlawful because they restricted the availability of legal aid to women affected by domestic violence which the Legal Aid Act says that they were eligible for’.
In 2015, solicitors protested changes in Legal Aid and one poster read: ‘NO Legal Aid NO Justice’. The difficulty is that partial, discriminatory Legal Aid is still not justice.