Law Review: “Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer”.

Above the entrance to The Old Bailey is  inscribed the admonition, “Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer“.

Well… after the Tory Conference this week and the fiasco on Child Benefit, this part of the inscription may leave some reeling and as to the second part; while I am sure that The Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke QC,  is keen, on behalf of the  floggers, hangers and deporters of middle Britain,  to punish as many wrongdoers as possible – he doesn’t seem terribly keen (a) on having lawyers involved or (b) putting wrongdoers into costly prisons or (c) having that many courts to deal with wrongdoers.

Kenneth Clarke reveals what cuts will mean for the courts

Joshua Rozenberg reports: It’s not just using lawyers that ministers want to discourage, it’s using the courts themselves.

The forthcoming consultation paper on legal aid will be a “total review”, Djanogly told a Policy Exchange debate. “It will look at the scope of legal aid, at eligibility, at mechanics and how best to merge the Legal Services Commission with the Ministry of Justice.”

He promised that it would be very much more than a savings exercise. “The review is going to take account of financial constraints, the interests of justice, access to justice and public interest implications.”

It’s not just using lawyers that ministers want to discourage, it’s using the courts themselves. People who might otherwise have fought their cases in court will be channelled into alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation.

So, it would seem that legal aid has to be cut back, although this may be difficult in criminal cases and, certainly for serious cases involving children, and it may be that we will see magistrates being given extra powers – assuming, of course, that they haven’t closed all the courts down.

Justice on the cheap? Well… as the old saying going goes… if you pay peanuts.. you get monkeys.  We are luck to have so many who are prepared to serve as magistrates for free.  We can’t expect them to undertake a great deal more work and is it fair to expect lay benches to deal with matters which previous wisdom suggested should be dealt with at the Crown Court?

Things are not looking good for Justice.  I gather that The Supreme Court, listed as a ‘Quango’ (would you believe) is still ‘under review’.  Our senior judges do not get obscene salaries – there are clowns running town halls paid far more – so what sort of ‘British Justice’ system the Coalition government wants will, no doubt, be revealed in time and it will, of course, be Labour’s fault that we have to strip it to the bone.

7 thoughts on “Law Review: “Defend the Children of the Poor & Punish the Wrongdoer”.

  1. The Magistrates could be given more work if the relevant sectons of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 were implemented. It is a fact that many persons sentenced in Crown Court for either-way offences receive no more (or little more) than magistrates could have given them. Hence, extending magistrates powers to 12 months imprisonment would make some sense in respect of such cases.

    The problem with this idea is LEGAL AID which, in Magistrates’ Courts, is very difficult to get. Both a means test AND an interests of justice test must be met. The means test is parsimonious in the extreme. Matters in the Crown Court are a bit better but “means testing” now applies there as well.

    I think that it would be very unfair to pressure defendants into accepting magistrates trial thereby ensuring that they did not get legal aid.

    I am also not especially in favour of whittling away the right to jury trial any further. The coalition was (supposedly) intending to protect this and to protect rights generally. Of course, now that economic reality is taking over it seems that rights do not seem to matter quite so much anymore.

    The other major concern is family law work. The High Court ruled the LSC’s tender process unlawful but one suspects that the government will get its way in the end after a further (and costly) tender exercise. It also appears that Clarke plans to stop legal aid altogether for private family cases – e.g. residence applications; contact orders and the like. Family Law is far from simple and such a move will result in manifest injustice.

    I would not be entirely surprised if they do close down the Supreme Court. It would be a pity but double appeals will be seen as a luxury too far. Some provision could be made for very difficult appeals to be heard by, for example, a 5 judge Court of Appeal.

    As I say, it would be a pity but one has to ask why it takes 9 Judges to sit on the MPs expenses appeal. The point of law in issue is not really all that complex. They say that it is a “constitutional point” but, so what? This degree of expenditure will not be going down well with the bean counters who, of course, know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

    Will Labour be blamed? Maybe – but the coalition is seeking to lock itself into a full five year parliament. If it achieves that then the next election is some time away and the coalition parties are going to have to take their own flack. Also, there is now Ed Miliband who is pretty untouched by the shenanigans of the Brown government in which he played a relatively minor role.

  2. Even accepting different functions, those favouring retention of the SC will be having to make their case.

    There is a case for not having the SC though a mechanism would then have to be devised within the CA so that the really important cases (legally / constitutionally) received appropriate attention. The SC is not, to my mind helping its survival case by having 9 judges on the MP’s expenses case.

    Having played a little bit of the “Advocatus Diaboli”, I hope that the SC survives. In general it is a high quality court well set up to deal with those carefully chosen and important cases. Keeping those cases separate from the more routine appellate work of the CA makes a lot of sense. Also, the considerable “creation costs” of the SC are now presumably water under the bridge.

  3. I don’t understand what you gain by abolishing the Supreme Court? If you remove the judge’s salaries (who I presume would continue to sit or would alternatively receive their very generous final salary pension) it can’t be that expensive to run and you are not going to save much money by getting rid of it.

    Compared to budget deficit the gains are going to be tiny. I’m not sure what political capital they get out of it either?

    As for civil legal aid – now that pretty much only those on benefits get it – I’ve formed the opinion that it should be restricted to those seeking, or defending against, the enforcement of a non-pecuniary right.

    It should be reserved for important claims where applicants or claimants are seeking the enforcement of important rights against either private individuals or public bodies which do not involve money.

    However, if we go any further I really don’t see how we can claim to be a country that has a justice system. What is the point of having rights if you cannot enforce them? People will soon realise that once the threat of legal action goes, all those people who once abided by the rules will no longer have the incentive to do so.

  4. I have to say that access to the law is already beyond the means of ‘us commoners’. My family has never set foot in a courtroom or had need of legal representation so had never given much thought to it.
    Until last year when my disabled husband was charged with a driving offence after a minor accident. According to police present and witnesses at the scene,the accident was not his fault etc.He was absolutely terrified when he got the summons to appear at court but was certain of his innocence and would not plead guilty ‘to make it go away’.Our next shock was in finding we could not afford a lawyer and it was apparent that he would have to go into court,without a clue,or a voice,(cancer of the vocal chords).It may be a small thing to you legal people but we were terrified but hubby believed all he had to do was stand and tell the truth.I phoned the court the day before to be told they were dropping the case,they had no case.We now know having investigated a bit further,that should we ever find ourselves in a court of law,we will be standing alone.It seems as with most things in this country,justice is only for the rich.(and crooks) but not the innocent!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>