If you’re an avid Twitter user you may have noticed the #saveukjustice trend becoming ever more popular. If you are not of a legal background, or if you do not have any interest in the law then you may be asking why you are being, possibly, annoyed by the use of this hashtag. It is simple really, the rule of law, the very thing that allows you access to justice, is under attack.
The rule of law, as per Lord Bingham, gives eight sub-rules. These are;
1) The Law must be accessible and so far as possible intelligible, clear and predictable.
2) Questions of legal right and liability should ordinarily be resolved by application of the law and not the exercise of discretion.
3) The laws of the land should apply equally to all, save to the extent that objective differences justify differentiation.
4) Ministers and public officers at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them in good faith, fairly, for the purpose for which the powers were conferred, without exceeding the limits of such powers and not unreasonably.
5) The law must afford adequate protection of fundamental human rights.
6) Means must be provided for resolving, without prohibitive cost or inordinate delay, bona fide civil disputes which the parties themselves are unable to resolve.
7) Adjudicative procedures provided by the state should be fair.
8) The rule of law requires compliance by the state with its obligations in international law as in national law.
The main point to make about Grayling’s PCT plans are that you will lose the right to choose their lawyer and instead be allocated a representative, under government plans to introduce price-competitive tendering (PCT) for criminal defence services. Now, some of you may think that this is fine as all lawyers are equally qualified to represent you. But many of you may also have a solicitor that you have been going to for many years and trust wholeheartedly. Alas, you cannot, under these proposals, continue to use that firm and that particular solicitor, because the government will appoint one to you.
There is also huge concern about a blanket ban on all recent immigrants receiving legal aid. This is an unprecedented attack on access to justice for those who have moved to Britain for, usually, a better life. Justice should not be dependent on your status in this country, it should depend on your need and legal aid is an important part of fulfilling this need.
This has been a short summary of my thoughts on the current PCT proposals. In short, if you have a legal issue and are not well off, have a solicitor of choice then it seems as if it is tough luck for you.
Please remember to sign the petition. It is extremely close to the 100,000 threshold to trigger a parliamentary debate. You can sign it here; http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628.
For your consideration I also attach a summary of all the other proposals;
Restructuring Crown court advocacy fees by paying the same rates to advocates irrespective of whether there is an early or a late guilty plea or a short trial, and reducing the use of more than one counsel for each defendant.
Reducing the amount spent on very high-cost cases by 30%. The paper says the Legal Aid Agency currently pays rates of up to £150 per hour for preparation and £500 per day for advocacy.
Reducing certain legal aid fees paid in civil cases and to experts.
Removing legal aid in prison law cases other than sentencing appeals.
Introducing a threshold for Crown court legal aid to stop wealthy defendants with an annual household disposable income exceeding £37,500 being automatically granted legal aid.
Introducing a residency test so that only those with a strong connection to the UK are able to receive civil legal aid.
Discouraging weak judicial review cases by tightening up the payment mechanism and only paying providers for work done on bringing a claim once the judge has agreed the case is strong enough to proceed.