Battle for legal aid’s future is not about the profession

first_imgLast month, Law Society president Paul Marsh opened a debate entitled ‘Legal aid: a vision for the next 60 years’. The panel included the legal aid minister, Lord Bach. There was plenty of talk about the parlous state of legal aid. Vision, however, was in short supply. At the meeting, Andrew Caplen, chair of the access to justice committee, announced a Law Society review of access to justice. This is timely because we are at a critical moment. Legal aid needs a vision for the next 60 years, even if it has managed pretty well until recently without one. Lord Hailsham used to boast that it was the ‘fastest growing social service’. That was almost certainly not what Mrs Thatcher intended – it was the result of a lack of concern over the growth of a relatively low budget for a broadly desirable service. But, to survive the next 60 years, legal aid not only needs a clearer vision, it needs a sharper voice in which it can successfully articulate its case for funding against its competitors. If visions are distant, nightmares are close. Legal aid expenditure has been held at around £2bn for the last few years. There is no legal impediment to it being slashed further. Play the defence of legal aid wrong and we could very well find expenditure reducing. In particular, the civil budget of £800m could be devastated at the stroke of a pen. Services in crime and public law will be protected because of the fair trial guarantee of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the effect of which will remain whatever happens to the Human Rights Act). However, compulsory competitive tendering could be deployed to bring down criminal costs to rock-bottom levels. Provision would be reduced to a bureaucratised rump of privatised public defenders with pre-determined market shares. So how might the access to justice committee come up with an alternative, and less depressing, vision of the future? To do so, we have to forget professional advantage, even for beleaguered groups of practitioners. We need to stress the socially inclusive nature of access to justice and the constitutional importance of fair trial. We have to accept that legal aid will, henceforth, be a declining (yet not inconsiderable) source of professional income. For both the bar and solicitors, appeal to relatively low incomes against the rest of the legal profession will get us nowhere. The more telling comparisons will be with teachers, social workers and doctors. As a matter of practical politics, we must surely accept that the overall legal aid budget is capped. Our job will be to hold that cap at £2bn plus inflation and the cost of additional services. The failure to accept this is a weakness of the otherwise interesting contribution to this debate recently published by the Legal Action Group – The Justice Gap: Whatever Happened to Legal Aid? by Steve Hynes and Jon Robins. The old argument about justice being without price may be eternally valid – it is just that no-one will hear it anymore. The core of the problem is crime. The overall cost has to be brought down to preserve civil. Lord Mackay once remarked that we were about at the end of what could be done ‘without radical change’. He was right. The only game in town appears to be the hopes riding on competitive tendering – a policy first advocated by Lord Mackay himself. But competitive tendering will cut competition for clients; diminish quality; require more management than is planned; and bureaucratise provision. The more radical option, which allows for a bit more vision, is to do what has actually been very successfully done before – radically restructure court procedures and substantive law (in the late 1970s, it was divorce) to save legal aid. For example, could expensive serious fraud trials be replaced by cheaper offences based on breaches of clearer statutory duties? Could the cost be shifted to stronger City regulators? What changes are needed to ensure that no jury trial lasts beyond three months? Standard or graduated fees might well be a better way of regulating the budget and respecting the dignity of clients than hawking consolidated bundles of cases to the lowest bidder. On the civil side, three things must happen. First, the Community Legal Service (CLS) desperately needs a coherent vision. It ought to limit itself to being a comprehensive advice and information provider, providing assistance in social welfare law. We should argue to bring the not-for-profit movement and, in particular, the powerful citizens advice movement firmly into the CLS fold. There needs to be a binding together of provisions that includes national telephone and web services, not-for-profit advice, assistance and lawyers where their expertise is needed. Second, there has to be a clear policy about what should happen to family law and what help is provided, on what terms and why. Third, let us examine the case for reintegrating the funding of money claims into legal aid through the replacement of conditional fee agreements and remaining areas of legal aid into a publicly run contingency legal aid fund (CLAF). Might a CLAF allow a better regulated and broader system of litigation than conditional fee agreements that implicitly prioritise certain types of ‘slam dunk’ cases? Practitioners, readers and Law Society members may not agree with all – or any – of the above. The important thing is the quality of the debate of the society’s access to justice review. Paradoxically, if we are to defend the profession’s manifest material interest in legal aid then we have to do so in terms rigidly aligned with the interest of lawyers’ clients. Otherwise, the next 60 years is all downhill. Roger Smith is director of the law reform and human rights organisation Justicelast_img read more


ITV and Lovells form pro bono partnership

first_imgITV Legal has launched a new pro bono initiative with City firm Lovells as part of an innovative partnership programme with its panel law firms. The ITV Legal pro bono bank gives in-house lawyers at ITV the opportunity to take part in Lovells’ pro bono work. The scheme will be used to provide a new monthly legal advice clinic in conjunction with Body and Soul, a charity supporting children and families affected by HIV. The partnership, believed to be the first of its kind, was launched last week as part of ITV Legal’s excellence and responsibility programme. It is designed to foster closer links between ITV’s in-house legal team and its panel law firms, to enhance training and development. The programme, involving City firms Lovells, Addleshaw Goddard, Olswang, DLA Piper, Slaughter and May, Charles Russell and Wiggin, is led by ITV’s director of legal affairs, Barry Matthews. Addleshaw Goddard will run a ‘mini MBA’ project designed to enhance the commercial awareness of the ITV lawyers, while Olswang and DLA Piper will provide workshops on contract and IP law. The scheme will also see up to eight ITV trainees spending six-month secondments with panel firms. Matthews said: ‘Legally focused support and development is equally important for in-house lawyers as it is for those in private practice. This unique programme, a first for an in-house legal team, will benefit all our legal and business affairs staff.’last_img read more


Public sector faces high level of employment claims

first_imgSome 37% of employment appeal cases are against public sector organisations, despite such bodies employing only 22% of the workforce, research by Milton Keynes firm EMW Picton Howell has shown. The firm’s analysis of national statistics and information from the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) showed that while the private sector employs three-quarters of the workforce, it is involved in only 56% of employment cases. The not-for-profit sector faces a disproportionate number of employment claims, according to the research, accounting for 7% of all EAT cases but making up only 3% of overall employment. Jon Taylor, head of employment at EMW Picton Howell, said the high level of employment claims in the public sector was a result of union membership. He said: ‘Unions play a very important role in the public sector employment landscape. Strong representation and financial support from the unions to help employees bring their case to court is the reason why the public sector is involved in such a high proportion of employment claims.’ Taylor said the balance was likely to be redressed as the waves of redundancies that have taken place in the private sector because of the recession begin to feed through to the EAT this year. He noted that Picton Howell has already seen a fourfold increase in its own litigation work. Taylor said that so far the public sector had been relatively insulated from the recession, but government spending cuts following the election could spark grievance claims by employees.last_img read more


The time has come to scrap the minimum salary for trainees

first_imgLPC graduates face a pretty tough time getting training contracts at the moment. Not only is there an ever-increasing number of students graduating from the course – with training providers only too happy to offer more places – but the number of firms prepared to offer the training contract is dwindling.Things may have got worse as a result of the current economic woes, but aspiring lawyers have been struggling to break into the profession for some time. I recall writing a feature back in 2005 about how paralegals were being expected to perform fee-earning work for very low pay on the basis that they would ‘one day’ be offered a training contract, which all too often never materialised. Because they have not yet clasped their palms around that training contract holy grail, paralegals do not enjoy the protection of its guaranteed minimum salary. More than that, the minimum salary actually damages their chances of ever winning a training contract, because it makes it too expensive for firms to offer. Many firms are not being deliberately exploitative when they take on LPC students as paralegals. They would like to offer them a route to qualification, but they worry, often justifiably, that they can’t afford it. If they could take on their best paralegal staff as trainees, without having to up their salary (although of course the minimum salary level of £16,650 outside London or £18,590 in the capital, for someone who has already invested so much time and cash in their degree and LPC course, is not exactly big bucks) then I think that many firms would gladly offer this opportunity to their staff. True, a training contract will still involve a bigger regulatory burden than just employing someone as a paralegal, but surely the main barrier for firms is the financial obligation to pay a set wage. Groups such as the Junior Lawyers Division are against scrapping the minimum salary level. They are concerned that without it, trainees will be paid a pittance, and as well as being unfair, that could be detrimental to diversity in the profession, with only the better off able to afford to qualify. That is a fair point. There’s little doubt that if the Solicitors Regulation Authority does choose to stop laying down a minimum salary, many trainees will indeed find themselves facing a pay cut, and that could be seen as exploitation. But the fact is that many LPC graduates out there working as paralegals are already being exploited, and the only salary protection they have is the government’s minimum wage. Some LPC graduates are so desperate to secure a training contract that they are even prepared to conduct ‘work experience’ for free. After all, what is the justification for the SRA to interfere with firms’ freedom to decide what they should pay their staff? This doesn’t happen in most other walks of life. The only reason I can see is that the regulator is attempting to protect trainees, and the financial investment they have made in their education and training so far. But in doing so, it is making matters worse for the many talented individuals who have still to get their first foothold into the profession. The time has come to let the market, not the regulator, decide what trainees should be paid – and in doing so, open the door to many more aspiring lawyers.last_img read more


Snooze control

first_imgThe justice secretary copped some stick for – allegedly – nodding off during chancellor George Osborne’s budget speech last week. But while Ed Miliband accused the lord chancellor of catching 40 winks, and Ladbrokes revealed it had paid out a four-figure sum to a customer who had presciently bet that Clarke would doze off, the minister himself was not admitting to anything. Clarke’s spokesman reportedly told press, ‘of course he didn’t fall asleep’, while the man himself provided further enlightenment as to precise events in the Guardian. Clarke told the broadsheet: ‘It wasn’t anything to do with George’s speech. It was early on. I sat there, snuggled in alongside my colleagues, and I was conscious of nodding for a moment. ‘I wasn’t conscious of going to sleep, actually. I don’t want to cause a dispute with Ladbrokes, but my head was dropping and – [I was] wide awake by the end of the speech. ‘I assure you it wasn’t lack of interest… But I had had a bad night the night before.’ Could the minister’s sleep problems indicate a pang of conscience over legal aid cuts? Sadly not. ‘I’m having gout in my wrist and the blasted thing kept me awake the night before. So I was generally short of sleep,’ he said.last_img read more


Clucking hell

first_imgSubscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Subscribe now for unlimited access Get your free guest access  SIGN UP TODAY Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletterslast_img read more


Ideal for multiple injuries

first_imgGet your free guest access  SIGN UP TODAY Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community Subscribe now for unlimited accesslast_img read more


An accident waiting impatiently to happen

first_imgGet your free guest access  SIGN UP TODAY Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community Subscribe now for unlimited access To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletterslast_img read more


Dont panic!

first_imgStay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Subscribe now for unlimited access Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community Get your free guest access  SIGN UP TODAYlast_img read more


In the detail

first_imgGet your free guest access  SIGN UP TODAY Subscribe now for unlimited access To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our communitylast_img read more