This week will be crucial in the fight to save legal aid as the bill slashing its budget and restricting its scope enters its final stage in the House of Commons. Any objective, rational assessment of the provisions in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) would surely come to the conclusion that this was a disaster on its way to happening. Unfortunately, being objective and rational isn’t a requirement for being in government.
In my last post I wrote about how administrative justice was the Cinderella of the justice system. I now think there is probably another candidate. If administrative justice is grown-up Cinderella waiting for the prince, then public legal education is baby Cinderella, who doesn’t even dare dream about him. As with any aspect of the law that isn’t about criminals or lawyers it doesn’t get much attention and even less money. But lack of column inches and scarcity of funds don’t mean something isn’t important.
It’s probably not quite close enough to Christmas to start employing pantomime analogies, but if there were ever a Cinderella in our justice system it is surely administrative justice. It’s not a phrase that trips easily off the tongue, most of the public have probably never heard of it, most lawyers don’t pay it much attention and even the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) barely mentions it in its business plan. Which is odd because, unlike criminal justice, most people will probably come into contact with it at some point.
As I sat in an excruciatingly long, unmoving queue at Lanzarote airport on Thursday I nearly caused a stampede when I read about the QualitySolicitors deal on my iPhone. My little whoop of excitement and slight leap into the air made many of the frustrated travellers around me think that Spanish ground crew had finally turned up to check us in.
Over the last few days I’ve been following a discussion on Twitter between a couple of lawyers and a professional lay legal adviser (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms). I resisted the temptation to get stuck in because I have mixed views about the need for those working in the law to be regulated and I thought it would be easier to explain why here.
I have a cat. I’m quite fond of him and I like having him around, but, if I’m honest, I don’t think he’d be too upset if I moved away and left him. He’d probably just go and live with the neighbour up the road where he seems to spend most of his time anyway. It’s what cats do. So it’s surely common sense that a cat couldn’t be a reason not to deport someone? Apparently not.
So this morning when I woke up, still in the fog of sleep, I thought I must have stepped back in time. Coming from my radio, without, it seemed, a hint of irony, was a discussion about whether lawyers should be allowed to operate for profit . Actually, it was more of a parallel-universe feeling than a going-back-in-time one because I’m pretty sure lawyers have been parting people from their cash since advocates in ancient Rome realised there was money in winning arguments.
According to the OECD, the UK already has one of the most business-friendly frameworks of employment law of any of its members, second only to the US. The chancellor, George Osborne, is obviously not convinced. He told The Sun newspaper yesterday we talk far too much about ‘union rights’ and not enough about the rights of unemployed people to get a job. That’s why he’s increasing the qualifying period for employees to make unfair dismissal claims from one to two years.