Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Tories and Lib Dems want to cut Legal Aid

Legal Aid has already been cut to the bone. Already vast swathes of law have to be entirely privately funded, no matter how vital it is. The pernicious culture of “no win no fee” has already dragged the law into the gutter far too often.

And now it is being cut further The full paper is here

These cuts are deeper than Legal Aid faced even under Thatcher in the 80s. The Tories & Lib Dem are going further than even Thatcher dared.

Let us make no mistake what this means – this is a direct and vast assault at the weakest and most marginalised people in society.

First, dispel the lie of “litigation culture.” That’s typical disinformation from the ConDemnation on par with “we didn’t know what the economy was like!” in terms of empty, facile and pathetic excuses.

Personal Injury law – an essential area of law that is much maligned and has been dragged through the mud back and forth is hardly ever covered by legal aid. This is where all the wrongly named “no win, no fee” agreements come in. So, no, don’t let them spread that lie – this isn’t about people suing you because they hit themselves with a hammer (as if PI has ever been about that).

But hey, while we’re here they’re hitting that as well. See, to pay for the “no win no fee” cases, currently your lawyers will recover their costs from the other side. So, if you’re awarded £5,000 in damages, you win that and the other side pays for your legal fees. After all, what’s the point of winning compensation if you then lose it all paying the lawyer?

Well, the Tories and Lib Dems would much rather that be the case. So if, for example, your employer runs a death trap of an establishment, maims you and leaves you unable to work for several months – well, the EMPLOYER shouldn’t pay for your legal costs – no, you should. Which likely makes your case much less worth pursuing. So the employer is much more likely to get away with running a death trap of a work place – and if they do get caught they won’t have to pay nearly as much.

I’m sure they’re loving their Tory friends for this. Maybe the Lib Dems are trying to make new friends, or they’re too busy trying to find were their principles have disappeared to

But I digress – another time that would be enough for disgust and outrage. But the Tories and Lib Dems have done better – by gutting what legal aid help you can get – and it’s quality.

Legal aid is for family law, it’s for the criminal law, it’s for housing law and debt advice and employment law, education law and welfare advice.

It’s, in short, for the poorest and most vulnerable people in society desperately trying to seek justice in a world that sues them.

And the first thing they’re doing is trying to cut how much legal aid is actually paid – by about 10%

Most of my work is legally aided. Nearly all of it. And, y’know what? My firm gets a fraction for my work than it does for privately funded work. A SMALL fractions. It’s already barely profitable to take legally aided cases already. Now? I don’t even know if my firm will keep me on – or can afford to keep me on – if these cuts go through. I don’t know how many firms will bother with legal aid – many already won’t because it ISN’T PROFITABLE.

Get that? It already DOESN’T PAY. It is ALREADY regarded as something of an albatross by my – and many – firms. It is getting to a point where it is not worth my education to do this work.

What effect do you think this will have for availability of legally aided lawyers? And how good they’ll be? Do we even need to describe what the knock on effect this will have on the justice system? If you can’t afford to pay – you won’t be represented – or won’t be represented properly. Already I have to cut corners, I can’t go above and beyond unless I do pro bono – I often cannot give a case all of the attention it deserves without working for free.

And that’s already. And it’s going to be cut.

As to the specific cuts – including just not covering areas at all (near complete cuts unless literal life limb or homelessness is in the offing)

Landlord jacked the rent? Running a slum? Imposing horrendous conditions, violating your privacy, denying any accommodation for the disabled? So long as they’re not actively evicting you, it’s cut!

  • well you better be able to pay for your own appeal. A nice give away to Tory supporting landlords isn’t it?

The massive welfare cuts have left you and your family on the brink? Perhaps you need to be appeal? Perhaps your disability has been doubted or denied? Perhaps you have been denied or refused welfare through mistake or malice or incompetence

  • well you better be able to pay for your own appeal. Which, of course, you can’t. Another stealth welfare cute right there

Need advice on debt? Has a predatory bank or loan shark screwed you? Need to know what legal options are open to you to get out from under the thumb? Need to find options to avoid bankruptcy? Need to see if “payment protection” or loans are missold and contain lies?

  • well there’s no citizens advice for you! Hope you can pay for that advice – maybe your bank will give you another loan to try and sue it? Ah the banks thought that the corporation tax and even more gutted “bank levy” (oh how laughable that is) would be enough give away to them? Pish posh, the Tories and Lib Dems think they deserve more opportunities to screw their debtors!

Getting a divorce? Can’t take the verbal and emotional abuse? Stuck in a loveless marriage? Just completerely loathe each other?

  • well, unless there’s domestic violence, you better be able to pay for it yourself. Tory and Lib Dem Family values right there. You will stay shackled to your spouse no matter how it destroys your mind. Divorce is a luxury for the rich

Been victimised, need help from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority? Need legal help on discovering what you can claim while traumatised, injured and hurt?

  • better be able to afford that help yourself! And whether even applying for aid will be worthwhile if you have to get legal help to do it

Been assaulted, falsely imprisoned, maliciously prosecuted or harmed by someone’s criminal negligence? Well you could bring a tort against them but…

  • that’s right, you need to be able to pay for it. Or rely on more “No win no fee” – except even those are being gutted.

And, of course – if you are fired, if you are driven out of work, if you have a hostile work environment?

- you better have a deep enough wallet to cover be able to fight it.

Hey and this is just the beginning. There’s proposals for COMPETIVE rates as well – including in criminal law and gods’ alone know what else. The general funding for legal aid is being so hevaiuly cut as to reduce any and all access across the board.

Perhaps this is why Lyn Featherstone was read to dismissively hand wave all the legislative victories we’ve pushed through to try to protect equality – because she knew that soon the very tools of enforcing them were going to be gutted.

If you undermine the justice system then all the laws, all the principles and policies – they don’t mean a THING. All of them are only as good as their enforcement, they’re only as good as the power to put them into effect, they’re own as good as their ability to be used and people’s knowledge of them. It is the justice system, the law, the lawyers that put make these tools, these protections useable.

The Tories & Lib Dems together are working to destroy the very concept of justice.