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: