In response to the letter from John Hayes MP on July 16.
Firstly, it is misleading to make comparisons between the cost of Legal Aid in this country with an adversarial system, and many others because our justice systems are completely different. This is particularly true of France where they have an inquisitorial system where much of the representational costs are borne by the prosecution and do not appear in the statistics.
Secondly the cost of the Legal Aid bill for criminal defence work is not £2billion per year as Mr Hayes stated, it is less than £1billion.
I agree that savings should be made where that can be done without damage to the service at point of use. There are plenty of places in the criminal justice system where savings can be made. Let me give just two examples; in the last three years the CPS has made severance payments to members of staff amounting to £62million, many of which had gagging clauses attached to them; last year alone the Ministry of Justice spent £2million on dog food. I could go on; the waste of time and resources in Crown and magistrates courts up and down the country on a daily basis is enormous and systemic.
Thirdly, the whole concept of outsourcing to huge corporate companies such as have been proposed for Legal Aid defence work has been roundly discredited and proven to be costly and inefficient. Specific examples of this are the prisoner tagging, court interpreters and prisoner transport contracts.
Lastly, the issues Mr Hayes raised about welfare beneficiaries, squatters and ‘foreigners’ relate to eligibility, and not to the service as provided by existing arrangements. It seems to me that it is wrong to make the service unfit for use by any of its users just so that you can prevent some of them using it. Having said that, where is that group of people supposed to go if they have been unfairly treated?
An almost unanimous condemnation of the proposals has come from all branches of the legal profession, all sides of both houses of Parliament as well as Shelter, women’s rights groups, equality campaigners and human rights groups. It is practically unheard of to have such concord on any subject.
These proposals will not save money, they will lead to widespread miscarriages of justice, many of which will go undetected and they will cause permanent damage to a profession that is central to the well-being of a civilised society.