A little while ago I noted, with reference to housing benefit reforms, how the shrill, hysterical reactions prompted by the coalition’s cuts often seem so out of kilter with the actual cuts themselves. As if to prove the point along comes a storm over cuts to the legal aid budget.
The Guardian yesterday rounded up four people to condemn the Con-Dems.
“If the government persists with these proposals it would represent a sharp break from the long-standing bipartisan consensus that effective access to justice is essential to underpin the rule of law”
– Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society
“The shrinkage of the justice system inevitably means a painful contraction of access to justice”
– Nicholas Green, chair of the Bar Council of England and Wales, which represents barristers
“People won’t get access to their civil rights. It’s unjust”
– Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group
The fourth was from Scope, the mental health charity. But look again at these three, 75% of those quoted opposing the measures. Notice something in common? They all work in the legal profession, the very profession which is now facing the prospect of less taxpayers money flowing into it.
And flow it has. Mr Hynes once wrote a book called ‘The Justice Gap- Whatever
happened to legal aid?’ The answer is that between 1980 and 2005 the legal aid bill swelled from £138 million to £2.2 billion.
We now have the most expensive legal aid system in the world. According to figures from 2007 legal aid spending per head of population in the following countries is
£10 New Zealand
£34 England and Wales
A bit of number crunching. The coalition plans to chop £300 million off a legal aid budget currently at £2.1 billion per year. This represents a cut of 13%. Applied per head of population that leaves us with £29.58, still well above the figures for New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, France and Sweden, not countries noted for having hordes of people who can’t “get access to their civil rights”.
It will sharply curtail lawyers access to our pockets. Charles Salmon QC of London’s Hare Court earned £1,058,000 in one year for his legal aid work. Howard Godfrey QC of 2 Bedford Row got just £988,000 while David Whitehouse QC of 3 Raymond Buildings had to make do with just £959,000. These are the people that Desmond Hudson and Nicholas Green represent.
The Immigration Advisory Service received £14,134,000 from the legal aid budget in 2008 and the Refugee Legal Centre got £13,092,000. These are the people Steve Hynes represents.
Think how many nurses/teachers/policemen that money could pay for. Nurses or lawyers earning close to a million? In a real world where money doesn’t grow on trees, those are the decisions which have to be made.