Categorized | Legal Aid

MoJ falls at Aintree racecourse

MoJ falls at Aintree racecourse

The MoJ roadshow rolled into Liverpool on Tuesday, when a packed audience filled the Corbiere Suite at Aintree racecourse. A splendid panoramic view of the whole course in bright evening sunshine only proved distracting until the business of the evening began.

In now accepted practice, the first part of the meeting dealt with all matters except PCT. The MoJ officials, perhaps in response to the location, went at a brisk canter through a lot of material. If they were expecting an easy ride they soon realised their mistake. From the floor they were seriously challenged on such matters as the judicial review proposals, the 20% cut in expert witness fees, level of refunds for private legal aid, having to prove income of less than £37,500 before assistance, the validity of the statistics and the impossible timescale of the proposals.

The officials were less than convincing in many of their responses. The mantra of fiscal restrictions was constantly trotted out. Faced with difficult questions they requested “please write to us about it” so frequently that it led to audible derision from the floor. After one concerted witheringly forensic barrage, MoJ lead official Kevin Westall was moved to plead plaintively that “this is not a court of law.”

First point on the power point presentation for PCT is that it is required because the “current market is too fragile to sustain further cuts.” I was surprised that this point was not seized on from the floor. Surely if the patient is “too fragile” it should receive special care. But no. Mass mercy killing is proposed prescription.

The perfunctory way in which the officials raced through the details of the proposed scheme suggested that they were resigned to what was coming and just wanted to get it over with. The Leader of the Northern Circuit asked what quality system and assurance would be employed. Vague peer review was all that is being offered. Whatever happened to excellence now that mere competence is the accepted standard was another unanswered question. The Interpreter contract “debacle” and the collapse of the Public Defender Service were offered as awful warnings of what could go wrong.

There were accusations of deliberately destroying the “best system in the world.” What would happen if and when the CJS collapses? Removal of client choice was probably the most raised point with all the well known implications rehearsed. That and the stark reality facing lawyers faced with bankruptcy and unemployment. Lead PCT official, who was not name-checked but referred to as Matt, admitted that the universal hostility of the Liverpool meeting was mirrored at all other meetings of the roadshow.

The most striking aspect of all the exchanges was the apparent gulf in expertise. The voices from the floor, even when indulging in the odd spot of grandstanding, clearly knew what they were talking about. The MoJ officials did not give that impression. Maybe they were under orders to respond to questions as little as possible and just listen. If so it was disappointing.

MoJ are expecting “thousands” of responses to the consultation, and will raise a “series of teams” to scrutinise them. I suppose it will be something of a lottery who will read your submission and how much time pressure they will be under to meet the programmed timetable.

Wednesday was a good day for publicity. 5 Live Breakfast (the poor man’s Today programme) treated legal aid proposals as its main news item, with full coverage of both sides. The final hour of “your call” was also about criminal legal aid. Presenter Nicky Campbell was impressed and eventually persuaded by the quality of the participants and confessed his difficulty in finding any supporters of the proposals to provide balance. All on the day of the legal aid protest outside parliament.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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