Sound Off have listed a series of key questions that they say MOJ has to answer about the legal aid cuts
"Six questions that the Ministry of Justice must answer before a knee jerk reaction to the cuts in the Justice Budget
June 9th, 2011 It started a year ago when the ministers in the MOJ were demanded by the Treasury that they must cut £2billion from their budget. One year on their is a serious risk that Conservative ministers Ken Clarke and Jonathan Djangoly cuts and reforms could actually cost the taxpayer more money and increase criminality.
There is a positive alternative that the MOJ can take and it will save more money than it will cost and will ensure we have ‘a fair’ society. The MOJs own impact assessment that goes with the bill states that the cuts to the justice budget will lead to ‘increased criminality, increased costs to other government departments and damage social cohesion’.
The debate on the Justice Bill must not descend into farce and a political slaggin match. There is too much at stake for parliament and the government to get wrong. If these reforms are wrong the victims will not be the white collar perpetrators of Financial Crime. They are not the criminals that push through the system. The real victims are the children, elderly and families that will not receive the vital services they require from local authorities. The real victims are the 10 out of every 100 people that are the victims of clinical negligence through no fault of their own. The real victims are the women trapped in abusive marriages.
To help this serious debate there are six questions that the government must consider today.
1. If whole areas of law are taken out of scope, how will individuals who are less able to act for themselves get justice? How will those with poor levels of education and literacy, mental health difficulties or communications problems understand the legal issues underlying their problem and present a coherent case? And what proportion of legal aid clients fall into these categories?
2. When whole areas of law are taken out of scope, how will clients afford the expert reports required to make their case, which legal aid currently covers? Will doctors be required to provide such reports for free?
3. If the victim of domestic violence is provided with funding, but the perpetrator is not, the perpetrator may well act in person, possibly including cross-examining the victim. This is not permitted in the criminal courts, as it is considered to amount to further abuse of the victim. How can you resolve this problem without creating even worse perverse incentives than the proposals already contain?
4. If a client on means tested benefits owns their own home and it is worth more than £200K, under the Green Paper proposals they will be entitled to no help whatsoever in any (civil and family) category except the limited areas that are not means tested for anyone (mental health tribunals and care proceedings). How are these people expected to borrow against the equity in their homes to fund legal advice? They will be entitled to no help even if there is no equity in their homes, they will be excluded based on the gross value of the property. How is this justifiable?
5. is it not better to take positive efficiency savings identified by the Law Society in stead of negative cuts that will cost more? If not, why not?
6. Do you agree with the Law Society that there is no excuse for the fact that the system enables some advocates to earn significantly in excess of £250,000 in a year from legal aid? What are the government going to do to ensure that excessive fees are no longer paid?"
Post by Colin Henderson on Jun 10, 2011 15:24:10 GMT
Like J4A, SOFJ have a piece in this month's LAG mag reviewing their progress to date:
"Does society value legal aid? As readers will be well aware, the Ministry of Justice is planning to cut the legal aid budget by £350m a year by 2014/15. Unfortunately, estimates suggest that each year, as a result, some 650,000 people in the UK facing real legal issues will be left without access to justice. Over the past 62 years, legal aid has been instrumental in legal challenges against the use of torture, the scope of the DNA database and the clampdown on the right to protest. Furthermore, it was responsible for winning compensation forthe miners in the 1960s–70s, helped the Thalidomide children in the 1970s and,more recently, enabled the Ghurkas to win the right to live in the UK.
Now with the government’s proposed cuts taking away key areas from the legal aid budget, including medical negligence, education, and family issues (such as divorce, housing and child contact cases), the most vulnerable in our society will be hit the hardest. By ‘vulnerable’, we mean women who are trying to escape abusive marriages, fathers who want access to their children, children who are the victims of clinical negligence and those who have been unlawfully fired from their jobs.
Campaign for access to justice In light of this, the Law Society has launched Sound Off For Justice, a campaign which is galvanising public support to challenge the proposed cuts. As with most things, there is a right way to go about the cuts, and a wrong way. The Law Society has therefore proposed an alternative reforms package which advocates cuts in excess of the government’s proposed £350m to help protect the most vulnerable members of society. As the government reviews the amazing 5,000 plus responses received during the consultation period, we should be asserting that individuals, whatever their financial circumstances, should have the right to challenge the government, the rich and powerful, and big business. Will the government’s proposed cuts make access to justice the preserve of the rich again? Furthermore, given legal aid’s successful history, how will the cuts affect the UK’s civil liberties agenda in the coming years?
These are all important questions to ponder, but we at Sound Off For Justice believe that access to justice is a fundamental human right which should be protected. As the unrecognised fourth pillar of the welfare state, we should protect legal aid or risk undermining our democratic system as access to justice becomes a theoretical right beyond the reach of ordinary people. It might come as some surprise to know that just six per cent of lawyers do work which is funded by legal aid. These are individuals who have invested a great deal of time and effort in training to become a lawyer to represent some of the most disenfranchised members of our society. And with an average salary. of £25,000, legal aid lawyers certainly do not live up to the stereotype of ‘fat cat lawyers’.
Currently standing at £2.1bn, the annual legal aid budget is undeniably high when compared with that of other Western European nations, but they have very different justice systems. However, when put in the context of our welfare system, the figure is not quite so startling. For instance, the legal aid budget would only be able to keep the NHS running for one week.
Get involved Although the legal aid system is in need of reform, it is difficult to put a price on such fundamental human rights as the rights to access justice and to have a fair trial. We at Sound Off For Justice are urging people to visit our website and sign the petition to fight the cuts.2 We have already reached over 14,000 ‘sound offs’, all of which will be sent to Kenneth Clarke, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. Furthermore, we have launched the first ever voicemail protest where members of the public, solicitors, MPs and organisations set to be affected by the cuts are being encouraged to voice their discontent by leaving a message on Kenneth Clarke’s voicemail, which is voiced by impressionist Alistair McGowan. All messages left will be sent to the caller’s local MP and Kenneth Clarke himself, so that he can hear first-hand the public’s opinion.
As a final note, the government should remember that cuts made in haste will likely cost more in the long run. Pushing people towards self-representation will flood the courts, not to mention MPs’ surgeries. The resulting inefficiency and downstream costs would not be helpful for a government looking to cope with a deficit. So, let us not deny people their fundamental right of access to justice and let us create a justice system fit for the 21st century. Please Sound Off For Justice."
Sound Off assess where rises in costs come from-particularly the criminal legal aid sector and high earning barristers who are escaping unscathed from the cuts
"Legal aid costs – the factsJune 20th, 2011
The overall legal aid bill rose from £889m in 1988-89 to £2,100m in 2008-09 (at 08-09 prices). But within those figures, legal aid costs for criminal cases in the higher courts rose more than twice as much as costs for legal help and advice in civil and family cases.
Criminal legal aid costs in the higher courts more than tripled, from £221m to £700m (216% increase). This is mainly fees to barristers - which are not being cut in the MoJ’s legal aid reforms.
The lowest increase over those 20 years was the cost of legal help and advice in civil and family cases, which doubled from £128m to £263m (105% increase). This is largely charged by relatively low paid solicitors.
Civil legal aid help and advice is bearing the brunt of the cuts in the MoJ’s legal aid reforms, which will cut the number of advice cases by 502.000 annually."
"Government U-turn on listening as Clarke rushes unfair legislation through parliament June 24th, 2011
The Law Society has today expressed outrage at Government plans to fast track legislation that will disadvantage the most poor and vulnerable.
A Second Reading of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has been scheduled for Wednesday June 29th.
Law Society President Linda Lee said: “the Government is hell bent on introducing a piece of legislation that will increase crime, weaken social cohesion and cost taxpayers more than it cuts.”
“The Government has failed to consider alternative savings identified by the Law Society which would make a bigger contribution to cutting the deficit than without the need to remove civil legal aid from hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in society. This is a Government that is running scared of proper scrutiny and debate. They are fasting the bill through parliament to silence the public.”
In recent history, legislation has only been fast tracked five times. This has been for terrorism legislation, economic and northern Irish law.
“Just last week the Prime Minister David Cameron said in a press conference:
What’s the point of publishing a green paper or white paper if you don’t listen to what people say? If you heard of a way to make your policy better and did nothing about it that’s not strength, that’s not leadership.
“The Prime Minister has gone back on those words today by ignoring Parliamentary convention and rushing through a Bill that will end civil legal aid for the vast majority of problems that need legal advice.”
“We say to him: It doesn’t have to be tough. The Law Society’s alternative savings make it easy for the Government to save civil legal aid and make a bigger contribution to reducing the deficit than the MoJ plan they have toed themselves to.”
In the 2008-09 Report of the House of Lords Committee on the Constitution, the Government at the time responded: “The Government firmly believes that all members of both Houses are entitled to a full explanation of why a piece of legislation is being proposed for fast tracking; and we would expect to be held account for its timetabling. Ministers remain prepared to justify the need for any expedition to the House, including covering those issues set out in the Committee’s Report.”
“The Law Society would like the Government to explain why it is taking this extraordinary step.
Sound Off For Justice believe that the justice bill will:
•The bill is in tatters and will lead to higher government spending, rather than help cut the deficit. •Back-bench coalition MPS have complained that ministers are not giving them any access and they do not understand the policy. •Clause 12 of the bill will remove access to a solicitor for anyone who is taken into police custody. •The cuts in civil legal aid budget means that the government is going to fund cases for financial fraud over that of family cases and victims of domestic violence. •Increased criminality, adding to pressure on prison places, and; •The abolition of civil legal aid for victims of medical negligence and most civil law cases, not the “fair, balanced and sustainable legal aid scheme” Kenneth Clarke promised when he announced the reforms. One Response to this post. Chris Peak Says: June 24th, 2011 at 4:05 am As a legal aid practitioner of 38 years standing, I predict that if this Bill becomes law there will be no legal aid within 5 years. The 10% cut is patently ridiculous, bearing in mind that legal aid rates have been frozen for over 10 years now, thus losing half their value."
"The Government has got its sums wrong in its misleading defence of Legal Aid Cuts1 CommentJune 24th, 2011 Des Hudson, Chief Executive, The Law Society England and Wales:
Ken Clarke and his fellow ministers constantly attempt to legitimise cuts in legal aid by insisting that England and Wales have “much the most expensive legal aid system in the world”. This argument is both inaccurate and misleading. David Cameron and his ministers should know better.
Only one piece of research analyses why we spend so much per head of population on legal aid in this country. It was conducted for the Ministry of Justice. And it concluded that the Government is not comparing like with like.
The first reason for our seemingly higher costs is our adversarial system. Countries with an inquisitorial one, where judges examine the evidence. spend far more on courts than on lawyers: for example, Sweden spends over 51 euros per head on courts, compared with 8 euros per head in England and Wales.
The second is that we prosecute and imprison far more people per head of population than the countries with whom Ken Clarke compares us — 3,800 people per 100,000, compared with 1,500 in the next highest country, France.
The public appetite for being tough on crime also has consequences for the amount we spend on criminal legal aid. But overall we spend less than the Netherlands and only slightly more that Sweden despite processing many more defendants through the courts.
We bring to court the drunk who got out of hand; we prosecute teenagers for consensual adolescent fumblings if one of them is under 16. And, as in one notorious case earlier this year, we prosecute people for food fights in which no one is sure who threw what.On the civil and family side, the high number of divorces in England and Wales seems responsible for driving up legal bills.
So while it is true that we spend more on criminal legal aid per head of population, if you factor in the nature of the criminal justice system and the volume of defendants processed, our system is in fact significantly cheaper than our European counterparts.
The British system of justice has evolved to suit our beliefs and values. We place maximum emphasis on the individual’s rights to be heard and to defend themselves, regardless of their means. We are justifiably proud of our global reputation as a model of justice and fair play, but this ill-conceived bill risks damaging it irrevocably. The damage will be done to those victims who not strong and have no voice. The damage will be to our society, our communities and our families.
The one thing the MoJ research proves without doubt is that Ken Clarke’s comparison is simplistic, misleading, and almost certainly wrong. Who will suffer as a result of Ken’s hang-up over this random figure? It will be the babies seriously injured in accidents during their birth, for whom there will be no civil legal aid to secure compensation.
It will be the woman looking after her disabled mother, who can no longer get advice when her carer’s benefit is wrongly stopped. It will be the man whose ex-wife will no longer let him see his children.
It will be me, you, and people like us.
Des Hudson is chief executive of the Law Society, England and Wales. This article was originally published in The Times."
"June 28th, 2011 Things are getting serious and the government are fast tracking the bill through parliament. This means that you and I and large sections of society are being silenced.
We need you to get all your friends and family behind the campaign. Please encourage two people you know to join the campaign and sign the petition today.
Last week David Cameron said that he would listen to the public. We now need him to come good on his word. Last week saw Ken Clarke introduce the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Bill to parliament. This type of fast tracking is only used in times of emergency and when the country is under threat. It will mean the bill will avoid proper scrutiny and debate. It means you are being silenced.
This week will see the 2nd reading of the Justice Bill in the House of Commons. This is at lunchtime on Wednesday 29th of June.
On Tuesday evening at 11pm we will share with you an exclusive copy of our Sound Off For Justice interim report on the bill to date. This is being released in full to Members of Parliament, media and the public on Wednesday morning.
In this we pose 13 questions that we believe the government must answer before the rush ahead with their bad policy.
On Wednesday from 1pm we will be running an online live discussion to cover debate in parliament. We will be taking questions on our Twitter feed. We want you to join this and ask the ‘Sound Off For Justice’ policy team questions that you may have.
We believe the government must answer the following questions:
•Why has the Government rejected alternative money-saving ideas that would mean abolishing the majority of civil legal aid could be avoided? •How reliable are the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ’s) figures for its contribution to reducing the deficit? •Why is the Government’s cash cut to services received by legal aid clients higher in the Bill than it was in the Green Paper? Despite the Law Society having put together a package of alternative reforms, which would make a bigger contribution to cutting the deficit without removing civil legal aid for hundreds of thousands of people, the government has failed to listen. Even its own select committee suggested that the proposals would lead to reduced social cohesion and increased criminality yet the MoJ has refused to carry out a full impact assessment.
There have also been some new additions to the bill including one that is particularly concerning to the Sound Off For Justice campaign. Clause 12 of the bill will remove access to a solicitor for anyone taken into police custody. Clause 52 means that you will have to pay for your legal fees even if you are wrongly arrested.
We really feel that this undermines the principles under which our justice system is founded upon.
What do you think? Take action now and get everyone you know to Sound Off For Justice."
"Sound Off For Justice release report in response to the bill June 29th, 2011
Ken Clarke’s Justice Bill has two admirable objectives – to cut costs and to cut crime.
After careful consideration, Sound Off For Justice is seriously concerned that it will do the exact opposite: add to costs and actually lead to an increase in criminal behaviour.
The reasons for this conclusion are fully explained in a new 65 page damming report published and launched in parliament today. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE REPORT
We believe that as it stands the Bill will only achieve the following:
•Cuts in civil legal will increase criminality and damage social cohesion; •Cuts in civil legal aid will penalise the victims of crime and not the perpetrators; •Clause 12 will undermine a cornerstone of our justice system; •The Jackson reforms will increase costs to businesses, to government departments and the taxpayer as well as raid the damages of victims of serious injury by up to 25%. •We oppose plans in clause 52 to cap the compensation people receive when they have been wrongfully prosecuted by the state. The Prime Minister has said: “I do not make any apology for listening as you go along, and making sure I am getting things right”.
Today we want the Prime Minister to come good on his word. Today we and the partners who support the Sound Off For Justice campaign, are again presenting him with a way to make his justice policy work.
The Prime Minister and the Government want to reduce crime and the deficit. If they force the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill through parliament in its current form, they risk the opposite. The Bill focuses on only short-term budget-gain and not the long-term consequences.
The Justice Bill is littered with mistakes, inaccuracies and lacks detailed impact assessments. The figures and calculations the government have used for the Justice Bill are based on assumptions rather than evidence. This Bill leaves our civil justice system at the edge of an abyss beyond which we do not know where we are destined.
All the signs suggest that the Bill is to be forced through parliament in haste. The government is not listening.
The report includes nineteen questions the government must answer today:
•Why has the Government rejected alternative money-saving ideas that would mean abolishing the majority of civil legal aid could be avoided? •How reliable are the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ’s) figures for its contribution to reducing the deficit? •Why is the Government’s cash cut to services received by legal aid clients higher in the Bill than it was in the Green Paper? We welcome your comments and observations on the report so please post them in our comments section.
If you have any questions, make sure you tune in to our live coverage of the second reading throughout on our Twitter and Facebook page."