A Fourth Letter to Lord McNally

My Dearest Tommy,

May I first apologise for the frequency of my correspondence? I know now that it was how often that I felt moved to write to Richard Madeley that led to the injunction. I do appreciate how a mountain of correspondence can become tiresome in itself. I hope that the photos of me enjoying the sunshine whilst shopping in Tescos that I sent you on Snapchat have added some moments of levity to your day in these times of austerity.

However I could not let recent events pass without comment. You will, of course, recall what you said last week about litigants in person,

“There have always been a significant number of people representing themselves in court – they did in around half of all child custody cases last year – and we provide information and guidance to help them. Evidence shows that cases where people represent themselves are normally completed quicker.”

This was in response to the report from The Judicial Working Group on Litigants in Person (report here). They had raised spurious concerns about litigants in person occupying judicial time out of court because they contacted the court about all sorts of irrelevant matters, that they made unwarranted applications, lodged unmeritorious appeals, could not understand the difference between a sense of grievance and a cause of action and that the presentation of the cases could be chaotic. They concluded,

“All of these issues have the potential to slow down, and to drive up the cost of, proceedings; and to take up judges’ time.”

Yet where is their evidence of that? I mean it is all well and good Mr Justice Hickinbottom, District Judge Ayers, His Honour Judge Bailey, Professor Dame Hazel Genn, District Judge Lethem, His Honour Judge Martin, Mrs Justice Parker, Alison Russell QC, Regional Employment Judge Carol Taylor and Penny Williams JP DL giving some anecdotal accounts of their collective experience but what do they know? The statistics show that not having a lawyer makes the cases conclude quicker. And that has to be good, right? Justice delayed is justice denied. It isn’t about the Judge coming to the right decision but a quick one. Lawyers just get in the way with their evidence, their law and their persuading the Judge that their first view may be wrong. You don’t get that with litigants in person.

In the debate on 11th July in the House of Lords lots of your noble friends, many of them speaking out of knowledge, sorry, self-interest as former m’learned friends, raised various concerns about the proposed reforms to Legal Aid. I was impressed at your cunning avoidance of answering any of the points they raised. This has caused you somewhat of a pickle in the past when you answered the point about choice, only for everyone else to agree with them. So it was probably for the best that you stuck to a party line (unfortunate phrase for you I know, can lead to confusion as to which party it is this week) in a prepared statement and then going “no comment” to the rest of it. Your opening line that “it was important that I put on record the Government’s point of view” was a wonderful device of political speaking. Making sure your personal ideological view is not confused with Government policy.

You then went on to quote extensively from Lord Carter and his review where he said,

“A healthy legal services market should be driven by best value competition based on quality, capacity and price. All three of these factors should lead to the restructuring of the supply market…..The emphasis of the proposals has been upon providing incentives for firms to structure their businesses in such a way that legal aid services can be procured more effectively, and that the service is delivered more efficiently”.

An admirable source of support for this Government’s proposals for reform. It is to be hoped that everyone ignores his other thoughts when he also recommended,

“The Legal Services Commission should begin from July 2006 a national roll-out of peer review assessment for all firms seeking a place in the new market so that the introduction of best value tendering can take place from April 2009 onwards. The Legal Services Commission should adopt four criteria to plan the roll-out of peer review:

• greatest quality impact for clients;

• greatest opportunity to restructure the local market;

• ensure a level playing field for all firms until best value tendering takes place;

and

assess the impact on the justice system.”

So Lord Carter proposed just short of three years of work that included peer review of all firms seeking to bid for the new contracts. Handy indeed to avoid mention of this given that before the Justice Select Committee the Lord Chancellor was able to tell them that only 10% of firms are currently peer reviewed and he wants these contracts underway by Spring 2014 (well the Lord Chancellor couldn’t, he had to get his colleague to, the Lord Chancellor should not get his hands dirty with peer review when there are cuts to be made). One of the safeguards envisaged by Lord Carter was that all the firms bidding should have been subject to peer review before they were allowed a contract. Surely it is just as safe to do it after the contracts have all been granted? Never mind the quality, feel the consolidation of the market.

As lawyers continue to bleat on about their fees being cut you observed in the debate that “some lower earners may see a small increase in their fee income”. A brilliant political promise. If one year from now you can point to one advocate who has had their income rise by one pound you will be proved correct. And even if you cannot, you would still be right. God, you’re good.

You quite rightly chastised the legal profession for confusing the public. In seeking to reduce the number of contracts to 400 you are not seeking to reduce the number of firms to 400. Loads of the other firms will continue doing all the private paying clients. Who will get a Rolls Royce service. Which is good. Look how many Rolls Royce garages there are on every High Street….oh hang on, that doesn’t work so well. Anyway, lots of firms will contract out services such as attendance at the police station to firms that will then exist on these crumbs from the table. It is wholly disingenuous for the legal profession to suggest that if you remove the ability to undertake publicly funded work from two thirds of firms providing criminal advice and representation that they will cease to exist.

Lord Carlile of Berriew, a member of your own party (for the avoidance of doubt, and as an aide memoire to yourself, that’s the LibDems) then had the temerity to interrupt you and said “Will the noble Lord answer the debate?” to which you pithily answered “I am answering the debate.” If one was a pedant one may point out that you had moments earlier said “I will not be able to follow the usual courtesy of a detailed response to the many individual points and questions raised…..and I will see whether I can cover some of the specific points raised in an omnibus letter that we will circulate to noble Lords.” So everyone can see you were both answering the debate and not responding to the points raised at the same time.

It is quite clear that your answer to the debate is to reiterate what the Government’s position has always been (except on client choice, where they were wrong, but only out of a desire to do the legal profession a favour). If the Lords cannot understand this then that is their fault. I thought Baroness Deech was a bit cutting at the end when she thanked you for “listening”. Made it sound like all your talking had not contributed to the debate.

But you had made one very valuable contribution. In my recent correspondence I had commented upon the fact that I awaited your motion of no confidence in the Lord Chancellor. I was beginning to feel a little disappointed in you. I apologise. I should never have doubted you. You are simply biding your time. Towards the end of the debate you said this,

“However, when the cuts have been made we will still be left with one of the most generous legal aid schemes in the world. I would make the point that although I have never compared it with continental legal aid schemes, I have compared it with common law legal aid schemes in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere—and noble Lords will find that it is one of the most generous in the world. I am proud of that fact. I want us to have a generous legal aid scheme. Access to justice is important. I want us to work on ways and ideas, some of which have been thrown up by the consultation, which will give long-term sustainability to legal aid.”

Again the pedantic amongst us could point out that when you describe it as “one of the most generous legal aid schemes in the world” you are comparing it to the continental schemes, what with them being part of the world and all that (unless this is heralding your move to UKIP and we can ignore Europe as part of the global community). But the pedant would miss the true message here. Although you have not compared it to Europe we all know someone who did. George Osborne. In his speech on the spending review he said “the cost of legal aid per head is double the European average.” And now the true believer can see where you are going. Get rid of Grayling. He may be able to survive tagging and interpreter scandals but not an operator like you. Once you have offed Grayling time to point out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has got his comparisons wrong, point out how pear shaped the Legal Aid system is going in Australia where you have murders unprosecuted through lack of representation and you can save the Legal Aid budget from the cuts! It is Machiavellian brilliance. You win the day and everyone is home in time for tea and cake.

Before now I had been blinded. As I write this letter the scales have fallen from my eyes. I had believed criminals should not be allowed choice. I believed prisoners should not have the protection of the courts. I believed lawyers were overpaid. But now I review your closing words in the House of Lords debate,

“Our legal system, our respect for the rule of law and the eminence and integrity of our judiciary are precious gifts passed down from one generation to another. We all have a duty to protect what is best while managing the change that is inevitable. That is the task before us now, and I again call on all those who care about the system of justice to join us in that task.”

I can see that all along you have been working on the inside to #saveukjustice and I am with you Brother. Every step of the way. If I am wrong about this then I am still with you every step of the way. You just need to let me know where we are going.

Yours in supplicant devotion,

The Gardener

PS I understand the CBA have elected a new boy. Word on the street says he goes by the nickname Red Cross. It must mean he is versed in First Aid. I am sure it is nothing to do with battling for the rights of those he represents……

PPS In your continued rise to power we need some well placed PR. I suggest a few personal interview pieces in the Spectator. We can get that chap Mount to write them. They can be called “When Harry Met McNally”. The whole world will want whatever you are having.

2 thoughts on “A Fourth Letter to Lord McNally

  1. Pingback: Save UK justice: the blogs | ilegality

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