Last week I had the pleasure of having lunch with barrister Henrietta Hill. We were at university together more years ago than would be polite to disclose. I’ll admit to being slightly jealous that she has managed to achieve far more than I have in fighting injustice, but then I didn’t have the aptitude or dedication to become a top lawyer and have been muddling along ever since.
Legal aid might not be dead yet, but it is certainly on life support. The route to justice for thousands of people, including children, victims of domestic violence, disabled people appealing decisions to cut welfare payments and patients who have suffered at the hands of a negligent doctor, is slowly being choked off. And yet there has been more press coverage about having to pay VAT on a hot pasty.
I'll give them this, the coalition government has a thick skin. Having only passed the Welfare Reform Bill by one vote last week and still dragging the Health and Social Care Bill kicking and screaming through the House of Lords, today it attempts to squeeze the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (Laspo) past growing opposition from peers.
It’s rather a British thing to support the underdog. I’m pretty sure most of us feel a natural affinity for David and get a warm glow when he manages to land one on Goliath. It’s nice to know that when the little guy takes on an injustice done to him he can be sure of a fair hearing thanks to Lady Justice and the principles of magna carta. At least that’s what it used to be like.
As you probably know, I am not a big fan of lawyers. But I do have to concede that sometimes lawyers are not the only people who make me angry. It probably isn’t too surprising that one of my targets today is the insurance industry. It’s probably slightly more surprising that the other is Which?, the consumer group that, arguably, made me who I am.