Although it is not directly related to housing law, I feel I ought to draw readers attention to an excellent comment in the Law Society Gazette from Michael Burdett who previously helped the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to set up the CDS (i.e. Criminal Defence Service) direct scheme.
As someone who has worked with the LSC he ought to know something about them. His view is that the savings claimed for the expanded CDS Direct scheme are misrepresented and that the LSC have failed to answer his request for a breakdown of how they have been calculated. He goes on to say that the expanded CDS is probably of questionable legality, that the ‘hypocritical and bureaucratic attitude’ shown by the LSC in this is being replicated elsewhere, and that their ‘arrogant and devious approach’ towards reform of both civil and criminal legal aid has destroyed the goodwill of the profession.
This is all so sad. In the 1940s when legal aid was first set up, it was conceived as a twin service to the National Health Service. So people of modest means would have access to both medical and legal help. When I first started work as a lawyer all firms did legal aid, even the very large ones. Now hardly anyone does. When tenants on benefit ring me up asking for representation, it is very difficult to think of anywhere I can refer them other than our local Shelter office.
As Michael Burdett says in his article, it is worrying that people’s right to legal help is being circumscribed at a time when the police and the state are being given unprecedented powers over the citizen.
We are told that all this is in the interests of the taxpayer as it will cost less. But this just reflects my blog item below – things being valued solely on the basis of how much they cost. And is a miniscule reduction in our tax really an adequate compensation for being unable to receive independent legal help if we are unjustly detained by the police? As others have pointed out, compared to the National Health Service budget and defence costs, the Legal Aid Budget is miniscule.
It is all very worrying.