JusticeWatch: the good stuff

Stick to a decent Côte-Rôtie (avoid benzocaine)
The Lord Chancellor fondness of the Bar (compared to solicitors, that is – see here) appears to continue. ‘Barristers will outnumber solicitors nearly two to one on the new advisory council that Michael Gove pledged to establish when he scrapped the criminal legal aid contracting regime,’ reported the Law Society’s Gazette.

It’s going to be chaired by Gary Bell QC of No5 Chambers. The silk told the Gazette that the council would ‘consider all matters affecting efficiency, delay and waste within the system and make recommendations to the lord chancellor as to how best they can be eliminated.’

As an aside, the Times’ Brief newsletter offered the following quote from Gary Bell’s ‘top criminal lawyer’s guide to cocaine’ taken from The Spectator

 ‘I once heard a learned drug-taker opine that you can tell it was “good stuff” if it made your gums go numb. I was sorry to burst his bubble: all that means is that it’s been adulterated with dentists’ benzocaine. Still, that’s better than levamisole, a drug used for treating cattle with parasitic worms; or phenacetin, a painkiller banned as carcinogenic. Stick to a decent Côte-Rôtie – that’s my advice.’

Breaking point
Lawyers looking for evidence of inefficiency and delay won’t have to look far. ‘Exhausted’ criminal justice system close to ‘breaking point’, reported the Justice Gap on today’s publication of a report by the Public Accounts Committee. MPs blamed poor performance in the courts on the post 2010 financial constraints and claimed that treatment of victims and witnesses was ‘not good enough’. In September 2015 victims of crime in Manchester had only a one in five chance of a Crown Court trial starting on time.

‘Central government spending on the criminal justice system, not including police, prisons and other bodies who bring prosecutions, is approximately £2 billion per year. According to the influential committee of MPs, that is a 26% cut in real terms from 2010-2011 levels and argued that HM Courts & Tribunal Services’ (HMCTS) had been particularly hard hit, with resources falling by 35% in real terms during the period.’
Ollie Persey

Straw companies
Richard Moorhead, professor of law and professional ethics at UCL, picked up on Giles Peaker’s LegalVoice article on the perils of unregulated legal services providers.

‘If things go wrong – and they may well do so – the client has no realistic recourse. These are usually straw companies, as any time spent on Companies House will show. There is, after all, nothing to prevent one company folding and an identical company taking its place, as some of those I’ve looked into demonstrate.’
Giles Peaker

According to Moorhead, Peaker was ‘doing a manful job’ in collecting examples of misleading marketing by unregulated providers. ‘What he is not really able to do is collect much evidence of actual harm or the even trickier job of balancing the potential harms and the potential benefits of a cheaper unregulated sector where the law demands no regulation,’ he wrote.  Neither the Legal Services Board nor the Legal Services Consumer Panel have ‘shown they have the resources to do this properly either’.

‘What we essentially have is educated guesses and interesting stories about the dark recesses of what may be a sizeable part of the legal services market. It is also an important part of the market aimed at the interests of sometimes vulnerable consumers. We should do better.’
Prof Richard Moorhead

Two a penny
We reported earlier in the month about the questionable judgement of The Lawyer for shortlisting South Yorkshire Police’s QC John Beggs for an award for barrister of the year in the same week of the Hillsborough Verdicts.

There was a powerful response from Mark George QC who acted for 22 of the Hillsborough families to Matthew Scott’s article for Legal Voice (‘John Beggs QC did nothing wrong – and the Hillsborough families’ vindication is all the stronger because of his approach‘).

‘Whether the families take greater delight in the measure of their victory on account of the torment they suffered from Beggs is I suspect doubtful. If they do it’s probably rather like I imagine an inmate released from Guantanamo Bay after years of incarnation and torture may derive slightly more pleasure from his release than someone who merely suffered years of detention. But truthfully, I think he would have preferred it if the torture had never happened in the first place.’
Mark George

The Times’ brief took an acerbic look at the legal profession’s seemingly endless enthusiasm for celebrating its own achievements. ‘Awards ceremonies in the legal profession are two a penny these days,’ it began; reporting on ‘some curious results’ at Solicitors Journal’s awards. The weekly mag is the latest to join a crowded market. The Brief was struck by the decision to give the award for legal personality of the year to Felicity Gerry. ‘Gerry is without doubt a top flight lawyer, having recently appeared in the Supreme Court challenge to the law on joint enterprise,’ it said. ‘She is indisputably a member of the bar, however, which makes her an odd choice for such a prominent award from a publication with the word “solicitors” in its title.’

There were also ‘raised eyebrows’ apparently over the choice of Leigh Day for winning the award for personal injury team of the year. The firm has been subjected to a relentless onslaught from the media with David Cameron joining the fray (here). If there is any point to awards ceremonies (and other than the excellent LALYs, I do wonder), then sending a message in support of human rights and against a bullying government and a compliant press is a pretty good one.

The Brief also reported on a Law Society survey which found that only 35% of respondents who had a legal issue were helped by a lawyer in the past three years. ‘The survey found that 15% simply asked friends or family for assistance, while 34% tackled the problem on their own with another 13% ignoring the issue,’ it said.


Looking for Proof?
The Justice Alliance and Justice Gap (which I edit) are putting together a one-off publication telling ‘the definitive story of legal aid featuring the best, original and most exciting writing about access to justice‘.

‘Our magazine is aimed at the public and explains why legal aid matters and why we need to fight NOW for properly public funded access to justice. We are asking for you to help make this magazine a reality!’
Justice Alliance/ Justice Gap

We are crowdfunding to cover the production costs and for a journalist to report from the post LASPO frontline. In the first five days, we have raised over 50% of their target £5,000. Help us make it happen. Donate here.


About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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