The Destruction of the British Legal System.

I know some of you might have a small inkling of what is going on, but I wanted to explain a little so you can understand and if you feel like it, sign an epetition to try and force a Parliamentary debate.

I know that when some people see the words Criminal Justice System, all you see is the word Criminal, and just automatically assume that it is only criminals that are affected by this, but I urge you to reconsider that.

The Justice Minster, Chris Grayling, without holding any debate or vote in Parliament is about to make fundamental changes to the Justice System, that once done cannot be undone.

The main points of the changes:

Legal aid in criminal cases will be restricted to those with a family income below £37,000.
No longer will individuals be able to choose a solicitor under Legal Aid when accused of a crime.
4 Large Firms will win contracts from the Government to provide all legal aid funded criminal work in a Region (London will be a region).
They will be guaranteed 25% of the work each.
They will bid based ONLY on price. The lowest bidder will win. There is nothing in the contract about quality of service.
Each company will be paid a fixed fee for each case that they receive…regardless of the complexity of the case.
There is nothing in the proposal about ensuring that quality continues after the contracts have been awarded.
Individuals will be allocated to a firm based on a random factor (day of the month you were born for instance).
Once allocated you will not be able to change the lawyer other than in exceptional circumstances.

What impact will this have?

The Government accepts that 1,000 or so high street solicitors firms will close. 1,000 small businesses gone from the High Street. Local knowledge, local connections and a competitive edge to provide an adequate service will all be lost.

The 4 large firms that are bidding will be paid a fixed fee regardless of the amount of work that is actually required. The “plan” being that these firms will lose money on some jobs but gain money on the other jobs.

The fact is that these companies will seek to maximise their profit, they will attempt to make every job a job that they can make money from.

It is the job of the Barrister to explain the legal and evidential matters to the client, and sometimes, it is the job of the Barrister to recommend to the client that they plead guilty to the offence (they cannot do this if the person says they didn’t do it, but they can explain the benefits and explain how strong the prosecution case is and how weak the defence case is).

It is feared that when the company involved makes a profit from your plea of guilty that a conflict of interest will arise. It is feared that these companies may advise people about the benefits of pleading guilty, and over-exaggerate the prosecution case while playing down the possible defences, because it will benefit them financially to do so.

The loss of competition (you cannot choose your lawyer, there will be a fixed amount of work allocated to each firm regardless of their competency) will decrease the quality of work. Any time you create a monopoly on a service you face the very serious risk that quality will be reduced as there is no incentive to ensure that quality comes through in the work.

This is evidenced by the recent changes to interpretors in the UK justice system. ALS and Crapita gained a monopoly of the service and the problems that have followed continue to plague the court system with delays.

I urge all of you to sign the petition below, to force a Parliamentary debate, which is justifiable given the size of the changes being proposed.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628

Signed!

Mainly because, although I’m not entirely sure what all this means, it clearly is a major change to our Justice System and surely any changes this big should be debated openly!!

Even the Ministry of Justice is not entirely sure of the impact of the proposed changes.

Worse still, they have no back-up plan for if this proposed system fails…that is just frightening!

Signed.

The worst thing seems to me, to be that this isn’t getting proper scrutiny in parliament. The issues are way too complex for my little brain (though you highlight some real concerns Kaos) and surely MPs should have a right to debate / amend / throw out the proposals as they see fit.

signed

Thanks for taking the time to sign.

From what I can tell, and for the first time in living memory of even the oldest in the profession, Barristers and Solicitors are actually united on the idea that this is going to destroy a system that has not only been around for centuries but is also admired around the world.

Problem is getting those outside of the legal profession to be aware of the changes and actively oppose them.

Appreciate you adding a little more weight against the ideas from outside the profession.

Presumably 100k signatures and there has to be a debate in Parliament. So well worth the push Kaos.

OK Kaos, just to put an opposing view out there. I dothink the reforms are somewhat clumsy, but reform was needed.

Firstly, the subject of your post. I hardly think these changes willcause the “destruction of the British legal system”. This is only aboutreforming how legal aid is funded/supplied.

Legal aid is an important aspect of the justice system toensure that everyone gets a shot at justice. I nearly typed “a fair shot” butactually, as we all know, money talks within the legal system so I’m not surethat “fair” is a word used wisely.

Given the country has to be careful about how the budget isspent, I think it is right to apply some common sense controls to a system thatis being abused both by the public and by the legal aid industry. There arefirms who pick up MILLIONS of pounds of legal aid from the taxpayer, somesolicitors and barristers are being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds.Howard Godfrey QC for instance was paid £928k in legal aid payments in 2009. I’msorry, but that is pretty hard to understand/defend. Perhaps he is worth his money, but if he is the best QC out there, why is it fair that anyone can “afford” to choose his services without thought of the cost. That isn’t the way out healthcare system works nor our education system, why is the legal system different? The legal aid system is being milked by some people because they can get away with it. That just doesn’t sound right.

So OK how about the first couple of points you raise

“Legal aid in criminal cases will be restricted to those with a familyincome below £37,000.”

Well yes I am in favour of some sort of “means test” for legal aid. Ifindividuals want to protect themselves against big legal bills they can get avery cheap add on to their insurance policies for legal fee protections. It isn’tappropriate to offer legal aid to wealthy individuals so there should be a cutoff. Is £37k an appropriate cut off, probably not, but the concept of a cut offis correct.

“Nolonger will individuals be able to choose a solicitor under Legal Aid whenaccused of a crime.”

OK the newrules are not saying someone accused of a crime can’t get legal aid, they aresimply saying that the individual won’t be able to choose any legal team theylike and have it all paid for by the taxpayer. That sounds right to me. Thelegal team appointed will be similar to the “court appointed lawyer” situationthat exists in the States. By the way, there is nothing to stop the law firmsthat feel so passionate about this to introduce a Pro Bono system (which iscompulsory in the USA). So how about lawyers here give a tiny percentage oftheir time for the public good – say 40 or 50 hours annually. That would make ahuge difference don’t you think?

Something else that the reforms are stoping islegal aid for certain types of cases. Divorce, immigration, employment areexamples of things no longer covered by legal aid. Well again, I’m sorry but inthis day and age, if you want a divorce, why should the cost of that come fromtaxpayers.

Having alegal aid system that allows people to start legal battles just because theycan and it won’t cost them anything, cannot be a good idea. Legal aid SHOULD bethere as a safety net for those that cannot afford it, but I think the legal industryneed to do more to come up with solutions.

Cut offs

Cut offs are not appropriate, until you start dealing with people with very large incomes.

Anyone on an income that is not what would be described as “very large”…ie over £100,000 a year, would suffer incredible hardship if forced to defend a criminal case out of their own pocket.

Being accused of a crime will become a sort of punishment. Don’t like your neighbour? Make an accusation of sexual assault against them. They will bankrupt themselves trying to defend that accusation.

We already see this happen in the private legal system, where people complain that defamation suits bring hardship and it allows the rich to silence everyone around them, because defending yourself in such actions is prohibitively expensive.

Is that what we want for our criminal justice system?

Earnings

You remark about the money earnt by one of the top defence Barristers in the country. One of a handful of exceptions to the rule, a person who deals with such complex cases that he earns his money, and that money was not earnt in 2008/2009, it was earnt over a number of years and paid in one go, so as to inflate the picture of what he earns.

Yeah, he probably does earn about £400-500,000 a year, for being one of the best defence Barristers in the country that deals with the most complex and lengthy defence cases this country has to offer.

The VAST majority of legal aid Barristers earn less than teachers.

Fees have not increased from 2007, and have actually been reduced by 35%.

Choice

Choice is a major driving factor in capitalism. Why should it not apply to the justice system?

When you take away choice, you take away the requirement for competency. If someone is forced to use a particular service, that service in, invariably, poor, because the person presenting the service can give whatever they like, sure in the knowledge that you have no choice but to use it.

Aside from the fact that 1,000s of small businesses will close, with the associated unemployment that will cause, those companies compete for business, and through that competition standards are kept high.

Legal Aid Categories

I am not opposed to the removal of legal aid from every category. Some I am, employment, divorce, being two that I think should receive legal aid.

The whole point of legal aid is to assist those without the money to bring cases against those with the money and the power.

Pro Bono

You should really look at the amount of Pro Bono work done before you start accusing people of not doing any.

Pro Bono, within the legal field, in this country is huge, but people are also trying to make a living. I told you above that the vast majority of Legal Aid Barristers earn less than teachers.

If there was no Pro Bono in this country, within the legal field, you would see a hell of a lot more issues. It appears that people expect those that care to do so without pay.

It is a theme with Government that they expect carers of the disabled to fulfil a role that should costs £000s and to do so for nothing. This is

Also don’t forget that this, and the previous Government, has increased school fees and introduced training at extortionate costs.

The Average Barrister is starting their career with debts of over £70,000.

Conclusion

Too much to write, and not enough time as I have to head off to school, so I can finish my 5 years of training at the cost of £70,000 so that people can complain when I try and earn a living?

Kaos, I have signed the petition, I am fully behind you on this, but can I ask an issue which may be a larger part of the problem…
You say anyone not on a massive income (ie over £100,00 was the figure you quoted) would have a real problem defending a criminal case out of hteir own pocket…

Doers that not suggest there is a serious problem with the concept of “justice for everyone”… what you’re saying is only rich people can defend themselves… that’;s reprehensible enough, but do lawyers and their “incredibly robust” rates not contribute to that problem? I am NOT suggesting that’s anything to do with this petition, but the legal system is grossly unbalanced in many ways that seriously need addressing… so can I ask, have you got any petitions addressing over paid lawyers making justice for all an utter joke?

Signed… :slight_smile:

Totally with you Kaos.

The earning ceiling, whilst a fundamental injustice, is a less of a concern for me but the notion that you are defended by someone, paid a fixed amount by a third party, whose only incentive is to turn a profit is a massive conflict of interest.

Signed!

Yeah Kaos, as you say, it is a lot to write and I’m busy too… but a couple of things…

On cut offs you seem to agree they are correct, you just differ at the point that the cutoff should begin. I agree, I think 37k is too low (but I think 100k would be too high).

On Earnings, yes I am aware there are not many who earn a lot from legal aid, but it is more than a handful. There are only around 2500 barristers in the country, so the top earners are always going to be a small number. The MoJ publish lists of the fee earners - I’ll list the top twenty below (quoted from the Sun, so it must be accurate :wink:

Pro Bono, yes I am (and was) aware of the existing pro bono work being done in this country, but I don’t think it is enough. I do think there should be more done and perhaps that might mean it should be “encouraged more forcefully” or perhaps even made compulsory. That’s all. By the way, I feel the same for other professions that have been trained at a highly subsidised cost (£70k is still CHEAP). The legal profession is still somewhat a closed shop, so this could be thought of as the price of entry. Actually I think everyone should do something for the public good, but that is another story…

The highest CRIMINAL bills were paid to:

John Charles Rees QC £554,152

Mark Milliken-Smith QC £538,470

Charles Bott QC £532,884

Balbir Singh £523,624

Leonard Smith QC £518,720

Rex Tedd QC £505,626

James Scobie QC £494,692

Zacharias Miah £486,816

Nigel Sangster QC £455,731

Gareth Rees QC £444,139

The largest CIVIL legal aid bills went to:

Michael Keehan QC £458,981

Paul Storey QC £442,065

Johanne Delahunty QC £414,354

Clive Heaton QC £400,271

Simeon Maskrey QC £394,181

Jeremy Rosenblatt £367,668

John Godfrey £327,629

Janet Bazley QC £313,651

Anthony Hayden QC £308,647

Janet Crowley QC £301,343

Legal aid is already means tested in both Magistrates’ and Crown Court. You are liable to pay towards the cost of your own trial if you convicted.

These changes will mean you will have to pay…even if innocent.

As to “forced” Pro Bono work, sure, if the rest of the country is forced to do charity work as well, that would be fine and dandy, if you mean to force one area of one sector to do voluntary work for no other reason than to fill a shortfall, then that is unacceptable.

Barristers and Solicitors should not be forced to fill a gap in funding.

OK Kaos, Legal Aid costs £2.2 Billion. The country can’t afford it and some would say the system is being abused. What would you say are sensible changes?

That proposition is unsupportable.

The country cannot afford to have a proper justice system?

I suggest that we cannot afford not to have a proper justice system, it is the foundation of a civilised society and if it costs £2bn, then that is what it costs.

To decide on a purely monetary basis that the justice system must be reformed is in error, the question to ask is whether there is anything wrong with our current justice system, and whether it needs changing.

There are issues, but these proposals make no effort to address those issues, it is purely a monetarily driven proposal.

Yes, it is a problem, bear in mind that justice for all is a misnomer, as any victim will see a prosecution (if accepted that it is worthwhile) completed by the State, and therefore without payment, currently most people in Crown Court cases can rely on Legal Aid and if successful, do not pay anything. The changes will mean that you will pay whether you win or lose.

Unfortunately the cost is a problem that is shared everywhere in our society. Barristers are highly trained, and skilled individuals. They are highly educated and extremely bright.

This Government doesn’t want to tax the Banking system for fear that those bright individuals will head elsewhere…why would the legal system be any different?

I have 5 years of training, I could go into consulting, banking, finance, accounting, service industry jobs…why should I become a Criminal Barrister, and rack up £70k of debt to do so…when the pay is decimated?

This Government tells you that it is ok for bankers to be paid millions in bonuses because we want the best…but then tell you that we should slash the pay of Barristers.

Effectively saying they do not want the best to be in the Criminal Justice system.

I think the best people in the job is necessary, not only to ensure that the innocent are not convicted in error, but to ensure that those who are guilty are prosecuted with the utmost skill.

bloo

Signed.

Signed.