I have decided to write a note to my MP about the proposed cuts to civil legal aid. I don't claim this to be a treatise on the finer points of the cuts, nor do I claim that this is in any way the definitive argument against the cuts, but I do think that it is worth making these points (and others) to MPs if you believe that poorer people should have the right to defend themselves and their rights against those who seek to abuse or those rights.
Rt Hon Vincent CableHouse of CommonsLondonSW1A 0AA
Date: 26th October 2011Our ref: nd/Your ref:
Dear Mr Cable,Re: Proposed reforms to legal aidI write in regards to the forthcoming vote in the House of Commons on the latest round of legal aid cuts.I am writing to you as I am resident in your constituency and thus you are my MP – my home address is *** yeah like I'm putting that up on a website ***As you can see from the letter head (this is printed on my firm's headed paper), I run a small firm of solicitors based in a very poor part of London. I make it clear now that while we do undertake criminal legal aid work we do not undertake any other form of legal aid and so we are not directly affected by these changes; however, I believe that it is important to bring to your attention the very real harm that this Bill will do to many of the people in the area where I work.Your party leader recently made me laugh when he claimed to be in favour of protecting human rights. I laughed because he either doesn’t understand what he is talking about or has chosen to ignore the reality of his own policies.You cannot on the one hand claim to be in favour of human rights while on the other hand you remove the ability of people to enforce those same rights, which is what legal aid is all about. It is like telling somebody you are in favour of their being alive but at the same time clamping your hand over their mouth to prevent them breathing! Removing legal aid will simply result in less people being able to enforce their rights and ultimately more people putting up with breaches of their rights. Your policy will kill the Human Rights Act.On a more day to day basis, I read how some people make the absurd claim that removing legal aid will simply mean that more people sit down to discuss their problems civilly. This is nonsense. All that will happen is that those people who have money will be able to do whatever they like safe in the knowledge that their victims have no recourse to the courts because they simply cannot afford to bring a case. Even those who bring a case sans solicitor will be at serious risk because of the major financial losses they will suffer if they lose, in the form of their opponent’s fees.Please do not underestimate the challenge of bringing a case to court. I am a solicitor; I qualified as a barrister first. I have rights of audience before all courts in England and Wales, including the Supreme Court. I have appeared everywhere from Richmond Magistrates’ Court to the Old Bailey and the Court of Appeal. Yet, I have my own solicitor who acts for me in areas of law with which I am not completely familiar and that solicitor instructs barristers to help me where necessary. If an experienced solicitor like me isn’t happy to go it alone in unfamiliar areas of law then imagine the terror that might strike into the heart of a man fighting alone for access to his children or a woman who has split from her partner and is trying to keep a roof over hers and her children’s heads.I get the impression that many politicians live in the hope that solicitors will simply do the work for free, as we in criminal law are being told to do with much of the work we undertake in the magistrates courts.This overlooks the obvious problem, which is that once legal aid has gone there will be huge gulfs, particularly in poor boroughs, where there will simply be no solicitors firms. Of course, this won’t affect people in more affluent areas who can afford to pay a solicitor out of their own pocket. But then, they should not, in my submission, be the highest priority of liberal leaning politicians when taking decisions like these.We have a large legal aid bill because successive Governments have sought to encourage people to stand up for themselves and have given more and more rights to individuals that can only be enforced through the courts, such as the right to equal pay, rights against discrimination, the right to enjoy family life etc. Cutting legal aid means undermining all the rights that people have spent years fighting for and means undermining many of the principles that I believed the Liberal Democrat Party stood for.For these reasons, I must ask you not to support the legal aid bill when Parliament votes on it next week. I understand that it may be difficult for you to vote against this bill and remain in the Government; however, if you really are a principled politician then it maybe that you have to do what is right rather than what is best for you and your career.Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss any of these points further.
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