Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Jan 28, 2011 22:01:44 GMT
There's not much time at all before the 14th February, the date by which responses need to be made to the Ministry of Justice reforms on Legal Aid - the deadline is 12 noon on Valentine's day.
Everyone needs to ask themselves; how ready they are to make a valuable response - how ready are you?
These are just my own 'top tips' for getting your response ready, I'm sure many people have other and better tips, there are packs with guidance and a wealth of knowledge out there - but what's important is to now start to work out how we are going to be prepared and ensure responses are made and collated.
The quality of everyone's responses could potentially lead to shaping a better system of Legal Aid, however if the responses are low in number, or poorly prepared and non - persuasive, the future may be very bleak; very bleak indeed.
Tips on responding
(1) Everyone responding to the consultation should already be fully aware of the implications of the Ministry of Justice reforms, you need to know what the proposed reforms are - if you don't - you need to find out. There's a wealth of information on the Ilegal, Mylegal, and the Justice for All websites, all the information is out there, if you've not acquainted yourself with it, now's the time to do so. Make sure you are fully aware of the extent of the proposed reforms, they are drastic and hard hitting. The time table for change will mean, if these reforms go through as planned, organisations will be hit this year. It's vital to understand that although these reforms are being phased in, the law is being debated now, what happens now will determine the future. Once law is passed, it requires a whole raft of legislation to change it back, let's do all we can to make sure it's not changed in the first place.
(2) The consultation document is long, around 50 pages - it can be downloaded through Ilegal and the Justice for All sites - these are all linked to the Ministry of Justice site.
Remember that the consultation document is one of those where once you have started it; you cannot save changes, you need to keep the browser open until it's done. We all know how computers can be problematic, a crash could lose all your data just when you're near to submitting it - so look at it first, get acquainted with all the questions by viewing it well in advance. It will probably pay to make a copy or print it off. Make sure you are aware of how much work is involved. Some of you may only need to respond to certain sections - others may have to respond to many more. Use all the information resources available on Ilegal and Justice for All sites which have been prepared to guide you through it.
(3) It would be a good idea to agree on who is doing what and work out when it will be done by. We're all busy, but you need to set aside some time - proper time - so set it aside in your diary and keep to it. This is something that means you will have to put clients aside, if you don't engage in the consultation, you may end up having no clients to worry about - you may end up being unable to help clients at all - you need to give this priority. It's dangerous to assume that other funding will become available to replace Legal Aid - for the purpose of this consultation you should assume it won't be.
(4) It's dangerous to assume someone else is going to be doing all of this for you, make sure you know who is doing what and by when. Make sure that whoever is making a response to the consultation has all the information they need, this isn't something you can leave to one person - that's just unfair. Ensure that your responses are cogent and answer the questions - answer all the sections which are relevant to you.
(5) It's not a bad idea to do a dummy run - perhaps on a word document - matching all the relevant sections with the right numbers on the on line response document. At least this way you can spell check everything and save all your responses, you can also work through it bit by bit - rather than try and cram it all in on the last day - that's just tempting fate; don't go there. You can copy and paste sections at a later stage from your pre-prepared answers.
(6) It's good practice to mark sections which are not relevant to you by stating 'not applicable' - this way you get a chance to have a good think about whether the section is relevant to your set up - be clear in your mind over which of the sections don't apply to you. Don't skip sections which have a relevance to your organisation.
(7) Try not to merge answers between different questions, study the question and stick to answering the point. Questions can appear similar, you need to understand what each question is aimed at answering and match your response.
(8) If you are attaching documents - make this clear by identifying them and reference them to the question you are answering with a clearly indexed annotation. Identify any attachments with the response by marking them as linked to your organisation.
(9) Be critical and ask yourself if your responses are evidenced based and clear - you need to be persuasive - good key points are a must. If you are referring to data - provide a link and show where it was sourced from - make sure it's up to date - research is all important.
(10) Decisions need to be made in organisations as to whether your response is going to be local - just covering 'your patch', or whether it's going to be consortium based - or a part of a national response. If it is a response which subscribes to a national one - make this clear by either duplicating the national response or referring to where it can be found. e.g " we answer this as per the national response given by [name]"
Local and consortium responses can still follow national ones - but give some thought to particular issues which are more local rather than national when making your response. You can do this by highlighting the national view and showing why it has more of a relevance to your area.
(11) Plan how you are going to forward your copy responses to Ilegal/Justice for All - work out where it's got to go - avoid duplication - as this will just overload recipients who will have made arrangements to pass responses on. Print off your copy and keep it in a safe place, it probably makes sense to send a well presented copy to your MP - your MP should already be aware - if not, you need to make them aware - make sure someone gets on to this now. Share the response you send to the Ministry of Justice with others - shared views are a powerful tool in contesting reform. It's no good leaving this to the last minute as none of us will have time to see what each other is saying.
(12) Check it through before you send it, it's best to do this with someone else who can check the wording - spelling and good spacing is all important.
(13) Check it's been received, only then can you take a break! But it's not the end of the process - there's still much to be done in achieving Justice for All - let's make this an effective campaign - by making it a coordinated one. The consultation is only part of the battle, an important part but there's more to be done.
(14) Make sure you have used evidence to highlight the work you do, every organisation has examples, Mylegal is where you can post them and Justice for All have put out a call for them too. Justice for All have template letters for clients to write directly to the Ministry of Justice - see the 'Love Legal Aid' thread and download their templates there.
These are only my tips, we all do things in a different way, if you've got suggestions on a better way then post them here and share your knowledge - the power of shared knowledge is our best weapon against the lack of awareness which exists amongst those proposing these reforms.
Together we can make a really solid argument as to why access to justice should not be denied - it should not just be reserved for those facing loss of liberty or their homes - our work is all about making sure things don't go that far.