Time to abolish legal aid?
Lawyers have a reputation for being money grabbing bastards of the lowest level. It is quite clear when you speak to some people that they cannot differentiate the criminal defence lawyer from the drug dealer or violent husband whom they represent. I gather this is much the same for soap-opera actors who must put up with being treated as their characters as they shop for underpants.
The current campaign by lawyers of both main legal professions against the legal aid reforms is mostly being ignored by the general public and the media. But, when the public do hear of it many seem to take the view that the campaign is a fight by lawyers protecting their own income.
The truth is that if lawyers got into the legal aid game to make quick and easy cash then they are fools because legal aid has never been well paid in comparison to other areas of privately funded law.
More telling is the fact that so many lawyers oppose the government’s legal aid reforms. If lawyers of both professions were interested solely in money rather than justice, the justice system and the interests of their clients’ and society then they would be campaigning against legal aid being available to anybody. In fact, lawyers did campaign against the introduction of legal aid in the 1940s (I seem to recall legal aid as we know it appeared around 1949 along with the NHS) because they feared that the lower fees would result in a brain drain from the profession that would lead to a reduction in quality.
Today, lawyers who are only interested in money would not want legal aid for anybody. They would be fighting against the legal aid system and in favour of individuals financing their own cases. We could make extra cash by flogging punters (or more likely their families) lovely finance deals. Would we get paid? Of course we would. Look at how many people are willing to spend vast sums just to keep their driving licence. Imagine what you would spend to avoid missing the next 4-years of your child’s life. In the USA people risk bankruptcy to avoid prison; there’s no reason to think the British wouldn't pay up to stay free.
It might result in slightly less firms, but I suspect that the remaining firms would be larger and so the number of individual solicitors would probably be roughly similar, all earning vastly higher salaries. Solicitors being paid privately to litigate would probably be less inclined to conduct their own advocacy so there would be less threat to the independent Bar from solicitor-advocates (like me) and from the employed Bar.
Conversely, there would be a large section of society who had little or no access to the justice system; people who did not receive the benefit of professional legal advice when facing a criminal allegation. But, if lawyers were only interested in money they why would we all care about some bloke we've never met being falsely accused of rape or murder or burglary or whatever?
The total abolition of legal aid would be good for prosecutors too. With soaring incomes in the private sector, the public sector would have to increase their salaries to retain their staff.
But, no lawyer is campaigning to abolish legal aid. Most are campaigning to keep legal aid and retain a system that allows them to receive a reasonable income for doing a very difficult and complex job representing what are often very difficult individuals.
This is why when you hear lawyers saying that legal aid is necessary, should be retained and is good value for money you can trust what they say… because, lawyers interests would be much better served by doing away with legal aid altogether!