In case anyone is in the vicinity and wants to attend (sorry about the very late notice) – see below for message from Sound Off For Justice.
Can you get this out to our supporters.
On the 29th of June from 10am – 12 am we will be hosting a media briefing on college green.
The Sound Off For Justice ‘Let Them Eat Cake!’ College Green tea party will see members of the public and MPs take a bite of Magna Carta cake to coincide with the second reading of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill on Wednesday 29th June, from 10am – 12 midday. www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=110550075704594"
It's good in parts; 20-odd pages of reaction, 20-odd pages of compelling case studies, then (bizarrely) a 20 odd page transcript of the Prime Minister's press conference in which he mentions legal aid once! Perhaps I'm missing something.
Latest update from Sound Off on the committee stages and what you can do
"DON’T BE SILENCED TODAY: Write to the parliamentary Bill Committee and let MPs and Ministers know what you think
July 12th, 2011
The second reading of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill took place in the House of Commons on Wednesday 29 of June. This vote was lost by 83 and now we move on to the next parliamentary stage and we need to fight to turn this around.
This is another opportunity for you not to be silenced by MPs and Ministers. In this step of the parliamentary process, parliamentarians get to hear from the public how bad this bill is and the impact that it will have to families, communities and individuals in the UK.
You can get involved and let the committee know what you think of the bill and the impact it will have. This is simple. All you have to do is follow the directions below and e-mail the committee. Please take this opportunity to tell the government that they are on the wrong track.
The Committee will hear oral evidence on Tuesday 12 July and Thursday 14 July and then consider the Bill every Tuesday and Thursday, excluding the recess, from that point concluding on Thursday 13 October 2011.
Today at 4.00pm The Law Society; The Bar Council; Family Mediation Council (TBC); and Leigh Day & Co Solicitors will give evidence to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill Committee.
Two MOJ Ministers – Crispin Blunt and Jonathan Djanogly sit on this committee. To date they have not listened to the 4,000 people who are against the bill. To date they have not 25,000 people that have signed our petition. They are now trying to fast-track the bill through parliament. They now have an opportunity to will listen to the evidence and start to understand that their bill is an attack on the principle of ‘access to justice’. We will hold them responsible for the impact of this bill, the cost to the taxpayer, the cost to society, communities and families.
They have not listened to you or us yet and we hope they will understand that their cuts are attacking the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society.
Who is on the committee?
This is a committee that is made up of members of parliament who will go through the bill and take evidence
Conservative members: Crispin Blunt, Robert Buckland, Minister Jonathan Djanogly, Ben Gummer, Damian Hinds, Jessica Lee, Anna Soubry, Elizabeth Truss, Ben Wallace, Jeremy Wright
Labour members: Andy Slaughter, Helen Goodman, Alex Cunningham, Jonathan Reynolds, David Watts, Yvonne Fovargue, Karl Turner, Kate Green
Plaid Cymru member: Elfyn Llwyd
Liberal Democrat members: Mike Crockart, Tom Brake
You can find out more about the MP and how to contact them directly here.
Your letters, comments and evidence will be circulated around the MPs that are on the bill committee. Anyone can write. You can be a member of the public, someone who has benefitted from legal aid, a legal aid firm the main thing is that you are not silenced and that you take this opportunity to ‘Sound Off For Justice’. Please mention our campaign so they know we are all working together.
What should written evidence cover?
Your submission should address matters contained within the Bill and concentrate on issues where you have a special interest or expertise, and factual information of which you would like the Committee to be aware. It is helpful if the submission includes a brief introduction about you or your organisation. The submission should not have been previously published or circulated elsewhere. If you have any concerns about your submission, please contact the House of Commons Scrutiny Unit.
How should written evidence be submitted?
Your submission should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find guidance on submitting evidence to the Public Bill committee here."
Further update from Sound Off today 13.7.11 on the absurdity of the witness sessions in Committee given the lack of time for the witneses to give evidence.
"Government’s fast-tracking of bill gives no time for evidence at the bill stage
July 13th, 2011
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill committee sat for the first time yesterday and they will take evidence until October 2011. The committee is chaired by Labour MP Jim Sheridan. It is made up of MPs from all sides including MoJ ministers Jonathan Djanogly and Crispin Blunt. Tom Brake was the most senior Lib Dem, whilst shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter led the Labour members.
The biggest problem this committee faces is the time that was given to the witnesses. The Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill is being fast-tracked through parliament and as a result, the committee is trying to hear as many witnesses as it can to give evidence in a very limited time. Each witness is given about ten minutes each of questioning. These witnesses, who are not parliamentarians, definitely know the subject matter, the territory, and the impact of the cuts more than any of their inquisitors. Time is therefore an important asset not to waste.
Yesterday it was the turn of the Law Society, the Bar Council, the Family Mediation Council and Leigh & Day Solicitors. At 5pm the committee decided to give the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmmer, only 15 minutes. These are all organisations and people who know a thing or two about the impact of the cuts. The fast tracking of the bill means the committee is only giving each witness about 10 to 15 minutes each. One wonders what the point is?
With such a short period of time to hear witnesses one would have thought that time would have been used wisely. Instead several numbers of the committee focused on trying to make the inaccurate point that the UK has the “most expensive legal system in the world”. This point has been covered time and again and is simply wrong.
The next tactic of those in favour of the cuts was to try and make international comparisons between the UK and New Zealand saying how the latter was cheaper. The Bar Council and the Law Society again made the point that the comparison is not workable as you are not comparing like with like. Peter Lodder, head of the Bar Council, went as far as saying “you do not have a Moss Side in New Zealand” to exemplify how the societal make up and population levels dictate the levels of crime, and therefore the amount of money that is spent by the state on legal aid.
The committee asked about the role of mediation and if it could be increased. Deborah Turner, from the Family Mediation Council and Linda Lee of the Law Society made it clear that mediation takes parties only so far in any dispute and that court time is often then needed to complete a case. They underlined the fact that litigants in person is something neither the courts nor local magistrates want. Instead of cost cutting, this will simply put more costs onto the courts and government departments as cases become longer and less well-managed.
The witnesses who were gathered yesterday have spent their lives working on the subject under debate and the impact the cuts will have. They are possibly worth a listen. This was an opportunity for parliamentarians of all sides to learn the truth about how these cuts will affect victims of clinical negligence, domestic violence, divorce and failing local authorities, or the elderly being thrown out of their pension homes due to budget cuts. The head of the Bar Council summed up the governments cuts as ‘giving with one hand and taking away with two”.
This was another lost opportunity for the committee to clear up some of the misinformation and inaccurate facts that some have been pedalling about the UK legal aid system. The witnesses had little time to tell the true stories and facts of those who will be impacted by the cuts which will leave 725,000 people with no access to justice.
You can find the full transcript of yesterday’s sitting here.
You can Sound Off For Justice and submit your own evidence to the the committee – follow this link to find out more."
"Mediation and litigants in person is not the silver bullet
Today the Justice Select Committee launched a report on the Operation of the Family Courts. It is a good report well researched and it presents a series of options to help family disputes. It presents the role of mediation but also the limits of mediation in solving civil cases. Sound off for Justice has included mediation as part of the £360 million in savings that we believe we can make from the civil legal aid budget.
We believe that mediation does have a role to play – the problem is where and when.
On launching the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, the Rt. Hon Sir Alan Beith MP said:
“Many family disputes could be better dealt with by mediation than in a court. However, there will still be cases which go to court and there will be significantly more litigants in person following changes to legal aid. Courts are going to have to make adjustments to cope with more people representing themselves in what are often emotionally charged cases.”
The issue of ‘litigants in person’ and individuals representing themselves in court has been raised frequently recently. It needs some serious thought and discussion. This is dangerous territory for Sound Off For Justice and solicitors to get into. The immediate accusation is that we are only protecting the vested interests of lawyers and legal professions. Alan Beith MP made this point very eloquently in his interview on the radio this morning.
We have demonstrated in full that along with not having the most expensive legal system in the world that this vested interest is not one of motivations.
We can confirm this again today by providing the facts. The salary of a fully trained legal aid lawyer who has worked for 15 years is 25k. Only 4% of lawyers practice legal aid, this number has been going down over the last 16 years. Over the same period government figures indicate that the legal aid budget has been reduced.
If we do have a vested interest it is in protecting access to justice for the most vulnerable in society and the idea of Magna Carta. We believe that David Cameron and the government must put the victims at the centre of all the cuts to civil legal aid.
The idea of mediation and self-representation does indeed look good on paper as an area for cost saving from the civil legal aid budget. The reality is very different. We need to think long and hard about the use of mediation and the increase of litigants in person as a way to cut the legal aid bill. It is not the silver bullet to cost cutting. The risk is that it is simply a way of cutting cost in the short term to build up huge costs for the taxpayer and problems for victims in the future.
The issue was raised in detail by MPs sitting on bill committee this week.
Peter Lodder Head of the Bar Council and Linda Lee, President of the Law Society confirmed to MPS that mediation is something that both the bar and the law society invest a lot in training. Speaking on Tuesday Peter Lodder told MPs:
“You may be surprised to hear that, generally speaking, we do not like litigation, and if you have got to court, something has gone wrong. So any attempt to avoid that outcome is taken, and mediation is a particularly useful way of doing it. But, as I said a short while ago in answer to one of your colleagues, mediation helps only those who really want to do it’.
We are all agreed that we can make savings in the legal aid budget. Sound Off For Justice proposals will save more than the government’s target.
The reality unfortunately is different for a few real life reasons. To understand this reality MPs will need to listen more closely to the victims of domestic abuse, clinical negligence or unfair dismissal in employment who have to go and face the perpetrator of the wrongdoing across a court room. There are limits to the role of mediators and the work that they can solutions they can solve.
Deborah Turner, Convenor, Family Mediation Council, made this point very clearly to MPs earlier this week “Family mediators are extremely concerned about these proposals, yes. We can see huge pressures on mediators, not least the expectations of clients who have not had the legal advice that is so vital, as was said earlier. The big risk is that they will come to mediation expecting the mediator to be able to solve all the problems, to tell them what to do, to write it all up. Mediators are not trained to do that, nor should they be”.
This year Carol Sorer and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) have provided testament to MPs of women who have been in physically abusive relationships for ten or fifteen years. It is legal aid that get these women out of these situations not mediation.
These women have spoken openly and honestly how they are terrified to step in the same room as their abuser. Representing themselves is some thing they could simply not do. Sound Off For Justice has countless case studies where one would question if mediation would work. This is the evidence that policymakers must listen to.
If the right thing is to be done it is important that government, policymakers, legal aid lawyers and victims have a joined up discussion. These changes to access to justice are a generational change and will affect every community across the UK. If the wrong decisions are made the cost to the taxpayer will cost more than the cuts will save. The social cost and the impact on communities and the most vulnerable is unaccountable.
Under the current proposals there is a serious risk that the courts could grind to a standstill as hundreds of thousands of people represent themselves in legal cases, senior judges have warned.
The Judiciary made their voices heard in an unprecedented criticism of government plans to reduce the legal aid budget by £350m. They have said that removing funding from whole areas of law including divorce cases, social welfare, debt and housing would lead to an “inevitable” decline in the quality of justice in courts in England and Wales.
Lord Judge, the Chair of the judges council, made it clear that he ‘anticipates a ‘huge increase’ in the number of unrepresented litigants in courts. In a scathing attack on proposals to slash legal aid, they have warned that a massive increase in “litigants in person” – ordinary people appearing in court without a lawyer – will slow down the court system and may cost more money down the line.
“The proposals would lead to a huge increase in the incidence of unrepresented litigants, with serious implications for the quality of justice… at a time when courts are having to cope in any event with closures, budgetary cut-backs and reductions in staff numbers,” the judges’ council, chaired by head of the judiciary, Lord Igor Judge, has said.
“There is a real question whether the cost savings arising from the proposed cutbacks in the scope of civil and family legal aid would be offset by the additional costs imposed on the system by dealing with the increase in litigants in person.”
Lady Hale in her speech at the Law Society in June added her concerns to the cuts in legal aid. The government has yet to respond to the criticism made by the Judges and magistrates who make the decisions in the cases.
In parliament yesterday, David Cameron said it was important the estimated 12,000 victims of the phone hacking are kept at the centre of the inquiries. We would agree with him and hope that he will support us in keeping the 725,000 victims of the civil cases at the centre of the current debate on legal aid."
Post by Patrick Torsney on Jul 18, 2011 10:01:27 GMT
The Sound Off team has now said that it will provide a "weekly round-up" of its activity
For those of you who have kept up with comments in the lobbying and campaign section on ilegal, you will know that the issue of regular updates has always been one of my niggles with both SOFJ and J4A: that information could seem very thin on the ground and/or too intermittent to keep tabs on. So, the decision by SOFJ to do a regular weekly update has to be very much welcomed
Here's the link to the online version of the email from SOFJ on 15th July:
Sound Off updates today to cover the Big Society catastrophe as the legal aid cuts damage advice charities
"Government cuts to charity funding and legal aid mean the vulnerable will be punished twice August 2nd, 2011
According to research published today by anti-cuts campaign False Economy, over 2,000 UK charities are being forced to close services and sack staff as local government authorities cut their funding, or in some cases withdraw it completely.
The study reveals the scale of the impact government cuts are having on the charitable sector. For example, Birmingham City Council – the UK’s second largest city – has cut funding to the largest number of charities, where more than 190 organisations will lose out. After Birmingham, it’s charities in the capital that will be hit hardest where cross council organisation London Councils will cut funding for 174 organisations.
The data shows the worst affected groups will include elderly, disability, adult-care, children’s and young-persons’ charities. Disturbingly, the government’s planned cuts to legal aid are set to punish vulnerable people who rely on the support and advice of precisely these groups, the most. So effectively the government plans to punish them twice – by removing free legal advice and then by slashing funding for the charities and groups who are left to pick up the pieces as a result.
The government has often repeated its desire that voluntary groups and organisations should pick up the shortfall of cuts to direct services as part of its ‘Big Society’. However, many experts, including Tony Havers, a director from the London School of Economics, have questioned whether the charitable sector can effectively cover such a sharp drop in government funding. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trade Union’s Congress (TUC), brands the government’s big society as “looking more and more like a big con.”
With regards to legal aid, these cuts will mean hundreds of charitable organisations who already provide vital free legal support services for the elderly, disabled, women, homeless and children will be forced to close. Yet, as Ken Clarke’s Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders bill is set to cut legal aid for an estimated 725,000 Britons, whom does the government expect these people to turn to?
In the same vein as Ken Clarke’s legal aid and justice bill, cutting funds to the charitable sector – already being expected to compensate for a reduction in government services – will simply punish vulnerable Britons who we should be protecting."