Ministry of Jesters?

50 000 signatures late the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) have, at last, deigned to respond to the Save UK Justice e-petition, calling for a debate on their consultation document Transforming legal aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system.

The dishonest, error riddled, response sits on the petition page so that everyone who wants to sign has to scroll through a load of misinformation before getting to the all important “sign this petition” button.

I would make some elaborate toilet humour type jokes about the “pubic money” typo, but as you have found yourself here you’re probably more interested in some serious comment.

Here are a few of the issues with this response:

  • Fudged figures: The legal aid system costs less than £1billion a year – down from £2billion a few years ago. The MOJ knows that they are quoting incorrect figures because the lawyers have put them right at their recent road shows.
  • Misold comparisons: Legal aid is one part of our criminal justice system – if we compare the costs of the whole system with the costs of other countries’ whole systems, we’re on a par. We have an adversarial justice system, this costs more in legal aid. Other countries have inquisitorial systems, which cost more in terms of judge’s salaries (not because their judges are fat cats, but because many more of them are required in that system) and costs of running courts.
  • Unjust: Denying legal aid to those who “do not have a strong connection to this country” includes victims of human trafficking – these proposals will multiply the injustices already heaped on people sold into domestic and sexual slavery by reducing their access to justice.
  • Misses the point: Despite going on for 250 words, it doesn’t actually get round to addressing the main point of the one sentence petition – that of client choice.
  • Quality, what quality?: It doesn’t say how the proposals will assure quality – currently the MOJ have no idea about this. The MOJ representatives have asked the lawyers how best to do this a the recent road shows. The lawyers have laughed.
  • Wishful thinking: It doesn’t say where the new service providers (who don’t currently employ any criminal lawyers) will get their competent and capable criminal lawyers from – my husband and his colleagues will not work for these firms on the new rates. Presumably they will recruit straight out of law school. So these new lawyers will all be competent and capable, certainly. In the same way as a newly qualified doctor, fresh out of medical school, would be competent and capable to do a heart transplant.
  • Evidence free: The MOJ have not produced any evidence to show that the areas they are seeking to tackle are eroding public confidence – it is almost as if they have made it all up.
  • Under scrutiny: It doesn’t mention that the Justice Committee is already calling for evidence (as in facts, not conjecture) on the proposals, to be heard at an evidence session on 11 June.

No laughing matter

If it wasn’t such a serious issue the MOJ’s response to the petition would be funny.  But as the media start to show interest, and even the vipers of Mumsnet get on board (and again here), the MOJ’s response can been seen as a disingenuous attempt at sabotage.

It is clear that the MOJ is on the back foot, terrified by the thought of having its dirty washing aired in a public debate. This “response” is simply designed to stop any more concerned members of the public from signing the petition.

Lets talk about it

Whatever you think about the proposals, such massive changes need to be debated in parliament. So:

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16 comments

  1. Speaking of misquoting in the Government

    Has the PM, Grayling et al actually quoted the ‘facts’ accurately?

    http://www.blog.rippedoffbritons.com/2013/05/four-times-in-six-months-office-of.html

    1. Thanks for your comment Helga. I assume you’ve already seen the thoroughly spun figures that appeared in the Daily Mail today ? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2336003/15m-just-firm-legal-aid-gravy-train-Scale-taxpayers-revealed-Coalition-vows-save-200m.html

      1. Yes and I did try to reply but clearly they didn’t like what I had to say. I suggested the money that is already paid to legally aided lawyers will merely be paid to Stobart et al. It won’t reduce the costs and when you think that so many innocent people will be persuaded to plead guilty to ensure a shorter sentence – thereby costing the tax payer £40K approx a year for each one.

        Add onto that the fact that whoever wins the tender will have offered the lowest price, so unlikely to do a good job – so here again we will see innocent people being found guilty and sent to prison ……… families going onto Benefits as the breadwinner (in many cases) will be in prison…..

        I’d love to know which Government ministers have shares in Stobarts and the like….

  2. Steven · · Reply

    And just in case you have forgotten…. here are Chris Grayling’s past lies/untruths/misinformation.
    Think may be he needs treatment!!!

    http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/chris-grayling-the-compulsive-liar-at-the-heart-of-government/

    1. Thanks for your comment Steven. At the risk of repeating myself, have you seen today’s Daily Mail article http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2336003/15m-just-firm-legal-aid-gravy-train-Scale-taxpayers-revealed-Coalition-vows-save-200m.html ? The figures published include VAT, there is no mention of how many clients were represented, what sort of hourly rate the earnings amount to etc.etc. More misinformation.

  3. Mary Clarke · · Reply

    Once again a great blog. I think it might be good if those who can turn up as members of the public on 11th June at the Justice Committee. It’s free and you don’t need to book. Even if you can only sit and listen it would be a show of strength and commitment.

    Mary

    1. That is a great idea Mary. Have you shared it with Save UK Justice campaign?

  4. carita · · Reply

    Thanks for this blog and publicising the deficiencies of the MoJ response. I have a comment about the lawyers fresh from law school. Of course low paid roles will fall to those who are at the junior end of the pay scale. They could be very good but inevitably quality can suffer if employers do not invest in adequate training and supervision. I am a junior lawyer & every police station file I do is supervised by a senior solicitor. Will Tesco law be the same? There is also potential for exploitation. The response to the LETR by Young Legal Aid Lawyers highlighted how many young lawyers carry huge burdens of debt and have been taken advantage of by certain employers when they are desperate to work. This of course impacts on social mobility in the law and whether this profession will be sustainable in the future at all. http://www.younglegalaidlawyers.org/sites/default/files/LETR%20general%20response%20-%20Young%20Legal%20Aid%20Lawyers.pdf

    1. Thanks for your comment Carita. I do despair for new entrants to the professions if these proposals come in. I think a lot of people (probably MOJ included!) don’t realise how much post qualification training you have to do to become fully competent. Best of luck with your future career.

  5. […] May: MINISTRY OF JESTERS (A Barristers’s […]

  6. Chris Harris · · Reply

    What goes by the name of ‘justice’ is often merely the violence and thievery practiced by those holding the reins of power.

    1. Thanks for your comment Chris.

  7. u6c00 · · Reply

    Any chance you could cite a reference, in particular the claim that, all things considered, our justice system is comparatively average with others? I read this elsewhere and can’t find anything to back it up.

    Thanks!

    1. Sure, check out this National Audit Office report, Comparing International Criminal Justice Systems, published February 2012
      http://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/NAO_Briefing_Comparing_International_Criminal_Justice.pdf

      Go to page 38, part 3, comparing expenditure on criminal justice.

      Point 3.3 says:

      “In 2008, the average total annual public budget allocated to all courts, prosecution and legal aid as a percentage of GDP per capita across Europe was 0.33 per cent. Finland (0.19 per cent), France (0.18 per cent) and Ireland (0.17 per cent) fell significantly below this average, whilst Scotland (0.43 per cent) was above it (Figure 19).

      The expenditure of England and Wales, at 0.33 per cent, was average. ”

      And there is a graph on the following page.

      The MOJ us right that our legal aid bill is high compared to other countries. But legal aid is one part of a system which, overall, is of average cost. We need to look at the whole system to figure out how best to save money.

      1. Thank you, that’s extremely helpful!

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