Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Start Taking an Interest Now, before, God Forbid, Your Day Comes to Stand in the Dock

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Start Taking an Interest Now, before, God Forbid, Your Day Comes to Stand in the Dock

Article excerpt

Byline: DENISE ROBERTSON

IF anyone thinks justice can be marketed like margarine, they're wrong.

As I write this, more than 16,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union plan to stage a one-day strike against planned Government reforms.

A further 14,000 members working for the Ministry of Justice, Cafcass, Criminal Cases Review Commission, Judicial Appointments Commission, the Parole Board and Youth Justice Board will walk out to coincide with a protest jointly co-ordinated by lawyers.

A petition designed to oppose Government proposals for price-competitive tendering has passed 90,000 signatures. The PCS union, which represents many workers within the legal system alleges that PS2bn of cuts across the justice sector will have a "devastating effect" on the administration of justice and 15,000 justice sector jobs are expected to be axed by 2015.

But a MoJ spokesperson claims: "At PS2bn a year, we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world and must ensure we get best value for every penny of taxpayers' money spent. Quality, professional lawyers would still be available to anyone needing advice or charged with a crime, just as they are now."

I agree with the first part of that statement. We do have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world and sometimes that system seems crazy.

The fight to remove radical cleric Abu Qatada from Britain has cost the taxpayer more than PS1.7m since 2005, much of it paid to his lawyers.

The two killers of Stephen Laurence were granted PS425,000 in legal aid, but the quality of care offered to citizens is not uniform.

I know lawyers who will burn midnight oil for their clients and others who simply go through the motions and take the money. I wince when I hear from parents about to lose their children because their legal aid is running out.

We need reform, but a system under which any unqualified businessman or woman can run a 'legal service' competing for a share of the legal aid budget on price tendering alone is lunacy. Under that regime, the quality of care must decline further and our rights to justice regardless of wealth, be restricted. Rights of Women, whose patron I am proud to be, is worried about proposals for further devastating cuts to the legal aid scheme, particularly in the Family Courts, where lawyers have to read huge dossiers of evidence if they are to prepare a proper defence.

Presumably those cases will go to cut-price practitioners who won't bother to read those dossiers because it wouldn't be cost-effective. Start taking an interest now, before, God forbid, your day comes to stand in the dock.

MY first reaction to news of plans to eavesdrop on our phones and emails was simple. If it's going to stop me being blown up they're welcome to every word I say or write. …

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