Pinkolady | 30.09.2013 03:06 | Public sector cuts
The Home Office minister Chris Grayling has now dropped the Price Competitive Tendering, but is still going to implement what amounts to a 20 per cent cut in legal aid rates - which means traditional firms with experienced criminal defenders will still not be able to afford to do the work.
To put this into context, ignore everything the government says about legal aid lawyers getting rich off the system. My own salary as a paralegal has never risen above £22,500. It's a nice amount for a single person, not great if you have a family. The partners in my law firm never get more than £30 to £35,000. That's not a bad middle class income, but if they worked for a corporate firm, most of them would be on at least £50,000. Lawyers do legal aid work not for the money, but because they believe in justice. And justice cannot be had 'on the cheap'. These cuts to legal aid have little to do with the austerity agenda, however. They are subject to the other aspect of Conservative Party ideology, hostility to working class people having any rights in relation to the State, or to employers. Besides cutting the rates paid for criminal legal aid, the other proposals are to remove legal aid for prisoners, and for anybody wanting to make a judicial review claim. These are both ways of challenging unlawful decisions by government departments. The other proposal is to remove legal aid for any subject for people who have not been legally resident in Britain for a year. This is not being applied to asylum seekers (the government could not get away with that under European Law). But it means that, once a person has refugee status, they will be unable to get legal aid for any issue for a year afterwards. A thoroughly nasty, racist proposal if ever there was one.
Lawyers are doing more than demonstrate. They sent 16,000 objections to Chris Grayling's proposals during the 'consultation' period, which probably did much to encourage him to back down on price competitive tendering. And barristers are holding a series of 'training days', when they will all be unavailable to attend court. It is a strike by any other name, and will shut down the courts.