The Ministry of Justice seems to think that justice is something that comes at a price, not something that has an intrinsic non-pecuniary value. Ever since the coalition government got its foot in the door of the MoJ in Petty France, their primary concern seems to have been to save money, not to ensure that justice – that nebulous, non-quantifiable concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, equity or fairness, as well as the administration of the law – is administered fairly and equitably.
It started with interpreting services for courts and tribunals (posts passim), a topic this blog has been monitoring closely for many months.
That saga began with then Justice Minister Crispin Blunt erroneously describing court interpreters as ‘grossly overpaid‘ and ‘taking advantage of the system’ as justification for handing the whole lot over to the consistently under-performing Capita/ALS. What started as a scheme intended to save £18 mn. a year out of an annual budget of £60 mn. is having the opposite effect as justice is denied, delayed or provided at increased cost to the public purse as trials are delayed due to underqualified or unqualified interpreters being provided, interpreters not turning up at all and defendants being remanded in custody.
The ministers and mandarins at the MoJ will of course deny that this is the situation (and probably couldn’t care less about it either. Ed.), despite courts interpreting service provided by Capita being condemned by two House of Commons Select Committees – the Public Accounts Committee and the Justice Committee.
In its latest daft idea to try and save money, the MoJ is turning its attention to ‘reforming’ (i.e. cutting. Ed.) legal aid for criminal cases.
A report in Sunday’s Express states that more than 1,500 High Street solicitors will be forced to close branches “within a year” if the Government’s – i.e. the MoJ’s – controversial legal aid reform plans succeed.
This latest money-saving MoJ wheeze is being piloted by Justice Minister Chris Grayling and is intended to save £220 mn. from the £2 bn. legal aid bill. Lawyers and MPs are warning that these measures would transform Britain’s legal system from one of the world’s most respected to that of a “banana republic”.
Some 1,600 local solicitors firms offer legal aid for criminal cases. Under Grayling’s proposals this figure would be slashed to 400, with contracts for criminal work tendered for the lowest bid going to bulk providers like supermarket giant Tesco, Olympics fiasco security firm G4S and the haulier Eddie Stobart, whose primary businesses aren’t in any way connected with the provision of legal advice (would you engage a plumber to fix a leaking roof? Ed.).
Under Grayling’s plans, defendants who cannot afford to pay for advocates will no be able longer choose their own legal aid provider but will be assigned one. That legal aid provider will be paid one fee for the case regardless of the advocate’s performance and whether or not a client pleads guilty.
This will remove a fundamental right from defendants in criminal trials – the right to choose a legal representative of one’s choice.
Furthermore, Michael Turner QC, head of the 4,000 strong Criminal Bar Association, has warned: “Our barristers’ system will fail. Our brilliant judiciary comes from the Bar. Once you have Tesco and G4S providing advocates, you will get Tesco and G4S judges in 10 years’ time. Make no bones about it, we are facing absolute devastation to what is the finest legal system in the world.”
A barrister of my acquaintance has described this as “killing the criminal bar,” adding, “Soon we will have wholly state-appointed defence lawyers and a guarantor of British liberty will die.”
If one takes the MoJ’s track record as shown by courts and tribunals interpreting, the result will prove to be disastrous and another breeding ground for miscarriages of justice.
Needless to say, there’s a petition against the MoJ’s plans. The petition’s text is reproduced below.
Save UK Justice
Responsible department: Ministry of Justice
The MoJ should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice.
It’s time the MoJ looked at the big picture, not just the bottom line of the financial statements.