Fourteenth letter to the Lord Chancellor,
Secretary of State for Justice,
Mr Chris Grayling,
14th April 2014
Dear Lord Chancellor,
I too am pleased that our friend and ally Nigel Evans MP has been acquitted of those sex charges, but it is awkward that he is angry at the injustice of having to pay his own £130,000 legal fees. Of course it’s an injustice that an innocent man can be acquitted and lose his entire life savings in the process. What are you supposed to do about it? You’re only the Secretary of State for Justice.
Please just gently remind Bob Stewart MP and Brian Binley MP (the two Tory MPs calling for the State to pay Nigel’s legal fees) when you next see them that THEY voted for the change in the law. This is the amendment that came into effect on 1st October 2012 restricting the payment of the legal fees of every acquitted defendant. Explain to them that it is simply not possible for there to be a system whereby anyone charged with a criminal offence can have access to free high quality legal representation. Not anymore anyway. It used to be said that your reforms denied access to justice to all but the rich. That’s unfair; in this limited area (defence costs) you’ve denied justice to the rich as well. What could be more even-handed than that?
Do these Tory MPs not understand the stance of the coalition Government? The bankers made millions during the fatal bubble before 2008 by greedy lending, rate fixing and lavish profiteering; but the public must be repeatedly told that it was the money paid out of taxation that caused the crisis and that therefore the solution is to slash public services. What could be easier to grasp than that piece of mendaciousness? Some people just can’t keep up.
However it is a problem that the assurances given by MOJ ministers to protect the most vulnerable are now, with the passage of time, looking hollow. The Government’s own impact assessment identified that it would be children, women, disability groups and minority groups that would disproportionately be affected by the cuts to legal aid by LASPO 2012. A safety net was promised (by way of placation) called the Exceptional Cases Fund (ECF). At the bill stage of the passing of the Act ministers in the MOJ promised that where applicants for legal aid fell just outside the criteria, but were serious cases showing pressing need, legal aid would be granted. The MOJ figures have now been released for the ECF system for April to December 2013. It clearly shows that the assurances given were next to worthless in helping people gain access to justice:
• In family cases 8/617 applications under the scheme were granted.
• In immigration cases 3/187.
• For Inquests 21/139.
That is hardly a safety net at all, is it? I congratulate the MOJ spokesperson when recently challenged about these figures who said “we believe the Exceptional Cases Funding system is working effectively”: give that person a promotion. It is crucial that access to Legal Aid for the poorest and most vulnerable is the exception, not the rule. Otherwise all the sacrifices made by the bankers will have been in vain.
You got into a legal pickle in front of the House of Lords Constitution Committee on 26th March 2014 didn’t you? You made it clear that you dislike the reach of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg and want to “curtail the role of the court in the UK” by abolishing the Human Rights Act 1998. You sounded most reasonable when you explained:
“My position has been very clear all along, I have no issue with the (European Human Rights Convention) which I regard as a laudable document, a statement of the principles of a modern democratic nation.”
However given article 46 of the Convention requires the Government of contracting states (of which the UK is one) to implement the decisions of the court at Strasbourg, your stance is intellectually impossible. I see that there is a petition doing the rounds demanding that the next Lord Chancellor be a lawyer. That seems a grave mistake because then the next incumbent would not be able to adopt your specious reasoning and legally illiterate posturing.
Do your critics not understand that you have been brought into the Government to, whilst chanting high ideals, cut public services for ideological reasons and attack the Human Rights Act for political advantage? On a similar note, I see that the majority of Criminal Bar Association members have revealed that their opposition to the legal aid cuts was only for the protection of their own fees, and not about ‘justice’ as they postured. Criminal solicitors also showed how lamentably flimsy their professed opposition to the Government’s reforms are when they accepted, at their Manchester meeting, to accept work at the new 8.75% reduced fee. They then became outraged at the CBA decision to accept your climbdown. It seems you are not the only one to have mastered the art of talking high principles, whilst (when it comes down to it) acting entirely out of self-interest.
Yours, looking after number one