Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Unbelievable arrogance

I have just had the dubious pleasure of watching Vera Baird QC, our legal aid minister, being questioned on Channel 4 lunchtime news about the legal aid reforms. When asked how vulnerable clients were going to manage if they have to travel up to 50 miles to get essential legal advice, she just shook her head in a patronizing manner and said that that this was simply not going to happen.

Actually, she told us, it is going to be better for everyone after the reforms come in, because (she implied) solicitors will be forced to manage their practices properly which will mean more money and work for all. In fact, those silly old solicitors are just making a fuss about nothing and will soon be grateful to the government for making them carry out these essential changes which will make their working lives so much better.

How stupid is she? Does she not know that all legal aid practices have had years of efficiency measures being imposed on them, auditing, five year plans, cost cutting exercises and the like. Does she really think that she, a government minister and barrister, knows better than the partners how to run a legal aid firm? And does she really think that solicitors are going to carry on doing legal aid work if these reforms come in, when there is other much more profitable work to be done? It is not solicitors, remember, who are going to suffer for all this, it is the clients.

So far as I can see there are two possible reasons for the governments attitude. One is that they want to kill the legal profession dead because an active legal profession is an embarrassment to them as they keep pointing out problems in their legislative program etc. The other is that they don’t have the cash and the Health Service is a more popular destination for any cash that they do have. I really hope it is the second, but sometimes I get paranoid and wonder if it is the first.

But if I had not given up legal aid work a long time ago, I would be very much tempted to give it up now and to write to Ms Baird and tell her that it was her smug patronizing attitude which had been the last straw.

If you feel as annoyed about all this as I do, support the Law Societies "What price Justice?" campagn.

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Anonymous said...

Tessa, I work for as a housing advisor under a legal aid franchise.

The most depressing thing about Labour's reforms is the detrimental effects that will undoubtedly result are passing under the political radar, much as the crisis in the supply of housing was until recently.

And what have the Labour government done about the threat to our economic prosperity and community cohesion posed by the lack of housing supply? Well they're building less social housing than John Major's government, and embracing the Right to Buy, whilst the price of housing for tenants and owner alike spirals upwards. But they're making all the right noises about solving the problem (of course).

In answer to your question, how stupid is the minister, well anyone who's a barrister is obviously not stupid.

I just wish that the public was more aware of how legal advice is fundamental to holding public bodies to account, particularly when you are unlucky enough to need representation. And also, as you've already pointed out, people should be aware how accessing legal help is so often a lottery when your local solicitor has withdrawn from legal aid work (or has not been awarded a contract because its limited to so few providers).

I have first hand experience of advisors employed by 'Not For Profit' agencies giving substandard advice precisely because they aren't solicitors and don't have the expertise to progress cases by drafting legal claims.

Tessa said...

Thank you for your comment, anonymous and I am glad that there are still some legally trained housing advisors out there. Maybe you should start your own blog on mistakes made by your unqualified 'not for profit' brethren and the damage this has caused. Feel free to air them here! This is after all a landlord law blog.

And yes I know the minister isn't really stupid, but I just felt so enraged by her smug attitude on TV. I notice that she has not appeared again and I wonder whether her comments brought forth any complaints from more senior lawyers than I.

Christian said...

Well, this private tenant has now had to defend herself in two possession proceedings and can't believe the unnecessary extra pressure placed on all participating parties by the complex housing laws. In the last proceedings, even the (deputy district) judge didn't know what she was doing. That leaves me (a clairvoyant) in the position of challenging her judgements on points of law (and I suspect I will win).