Admittedly, most of what I know about legal aid comes from Rumpole. I know that it’s not overly remunerative, but it works well enough and means that people who need good legal representation can get it. I was horrified to hear from a barrister friend about the changes to be imposed.
Legal aid will be, in effect, privatised. It will be put out to tender and a defendant will have no choice but the cheapest. If the defendant manages to pay for another lawyer instead, (s)he will not be awarded costs if successful. Funding is to be withdrawn entirely from some areas of law.
This stupidity was squeezed through Parliament, having been rejected 14 times by the Lords. (I wish the Lords had the upper hand as well as the upper house. Sensible fellows.)
Why is there still this obsession with tendering and privatisation? We are seeing every day that it doesn’t work. Monetary value is only relevant for consumables: you can’t put a price on liberty, or on health, or on education. When you have a limited amount of money to spend, it’s much more sensible to do as is now done: set a fee that the government will pay lawyers (or doctors or teachers or whoever), and rely on the public-spirit and moral backbone of professionals, who really care about what they do, to accept those low fees.
Now non-specialist firms like Eddie Stobart are moving in to make a profit from the law, as profit is what the law has been reduced to.
Meanwhile, Russian oligarchs can swan into London and use the tax-paid-for courts for almost free to sort out their nefarious dealings. As my barrister said, Abramovich and Berezovsky took up lots of court time, but paid only a few thousand (compared with the vast sums paid to lawyers – and hotels and whores). As usual, the poor are subsidising the rich.
These changes are such obvious inanity that I can’t quite believe they’re happening. But they are.