JusticeWatch: ‘Let’s face it, we’re in mink-lined loo-paper territory’

wigs B&WWeekly round-up, May 16
In a week in which we heard of  judges reporting of the frustration of unrepresented litigants in the courts spilling into to ‘significant outbreaks of violence‘ as a result of legal aid cuts and as Southwark Law Centre reflected on ‘baby banks’ distributing nappies to mums as a result of ‘a lack of legal advice regarding  immigration rights‘, there was, of course, only one ‘legal aid’ story: Operation Cotton (again).

Evidence, if evidence is really needed, that most of the media are only really interested in the impact of legal aid cuts when it relates to the posh end of the Bar. Honorable exception to the Guardian’s Society pages – readers are now invited to ‘share your experiences and concerns‘ about the legal aid cuts.

Reverse musical chairs
Anyhow, the FT reported that ‘the landmark court decision’, currently being challenged by the Financial Conduct Authority, could have an impact on all white collar fraud including the exotic sounding Operation Tabernula (rather boringly it means ‘little shop, booth or tavern’) – it’s the FCA’s biggest insider trading case.

Sean Larkin QC, acting for the FCA, told the Court of Appeal that the defendants could access barristers from the Public Defender Service. Defendants saw the current impasse as ‘an opportunity’ to argue their case should be halted as an abuse of process.

‘It’s the reverse of musical chairs,’ Larkin told the court. ‘If you manage to get a chair you get a trial whereas if you avoid sitting down you can advance abuse of process.’

Lord Justice Leveson, one of the three judges, told the hearing that the judiciary could not become involved in the ‘niceties of contractual discussions’ with the Bar and the MoJ.

Let’s face it, we’re still in ‘mink-lined loo-paper territory’
Britain’s best-paid legal aid barrister made £675,798 last year, wrote Rosamund Urwin in a cracking article in the Evening Standard. ‘John Rees QC will have then paid VAT on that sum, as well as coughing up for chambers’ fees, pension contributions and insurance — but he’s still in Scrooge McDuck, wine cellar and mink-lined loo-paper territory.’ His salary puts him ‘below Bank of England Governor Mark Carney but above the highest-earning GP. You could get 23 Reeses for the money Wayne Rooney makes but 22 nurses for the price of the wigged one.’

Rees’s excessive pay was ‘seized upon as a sign the legal-aid budget is out of control’.

‘This story of rich barristers is really just a blanket to obscure a much more important issue: our disintegrating justice system thanks to legal-aid cuts. A fraud trial has already been halted after the defendants said they couldn’t find barristers to represent them.’

Urwin was not ‘suggesting you weep for Rees’ but ‘it’s possible to bemoan a few high-earners without attacking a whole profession’. Great stuff.

Quote of the week
It has to be the Criminal Law Solicitors Association and Criminal Law Solicitors Association and the London Criminal Courts Association who described the response of the Bar Council thus: ‘preposterous entirely self interested hubristic triumphalism‘. Yeah, but tell us what do you really think…

Tweet of the week

Nat is a housing lawyer at Hackney Community Law Centre.

Beyond help
Christopher Sykes, a researcher for a local government think tank, considered the impact on MPs’ surgeries of the legal aid cuts. He referenced research research by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers who interviewed 45 MPs in 2012 concluding that the cuts would ‘compel poorer constituents with complex legal problems to turn to local representatives rather than lawyers for help’.’This would challenge such representatives to take on problems they are unqualified to resolve in a way that reduced their overall efficiency and reputation as problem-solvers,’ Sykes said.

‘It is not yet entirely clear how the legal aid cuts will affect local government. Nevertheless, if demand for legal services remains constant, but supply dwindles, local leaders may come under pressure to make up the shortfall. Leaders who fail to do so may find that their surgeries come to resemble triages where the most troubled constituents are simply ‘beyond help’.’

The Observer, in an article seeking nominations for Britain’s new radicals 2014, flagged up the work of the always innovative Coventry Law Centre. ‘Austerity has hit all budgets, but it can also generate experimentation and grow new partnerships,’ the paper said; citing its work with Grapevine, a centre to help people with learning disabilities in a deprived part of Coventry, to help individuals and families with complex needs. ‘In legal aid, there is a single transaction,’ says Bent. ‘You have a legal problem, we work on it, and then the case is closed. Now, legal aid has been drastically cut, but the need doesn’t go away. So together we act as a team.’

 

 

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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