In these times of austerity, it of course makes sense for governments to prioritise what to spend the limited public purse upon. Difficult decisions need to be made. Resources are not infinite and however worthy a cause is, if the money isn’t there, the money isn’t there.
One might be able to learn something about the character of those who pick what to spend the money on, by the priorities they determine. Should a mother spend her last £20 on special brew and a packet of Marlboro Red, rather than say, feeding her children, one would rightfully pour scorn upon her and one can only imagine the sort of headlines that might attract in, for example, the Daily Fail.
How then are we to judge the current governments priorities as announced in yesterday’s budget. What does it tell us about their character?
The ministry of Justice are set about introducing the most savage cuts to the legal aid system in decades. It is no exaggeration to say that these cuts wont simply result in firms of solicitors vanishing from high streets, barristers leaving publicly funded work but there will also be a real denial of access to justice.
The cuts will mean
- 1800 firms of solicitors are to be reduce to 525.
- Solicitors will get a 17.5% reduction in all criminal legal aid rates.
- There will be a fixed fee for attending at police stations, however long one is there for, however many times one needs to attend.
- Advocacy fees in the most complex of cases are to be cut by 30%.
- Advocacy fees in other cases will be subject to swingeing cuts, from between 5% to over 30% depending on the case type.
- Client choice will be an illusion if there is no firm of solicitors upon which they can exercise a choice.
- Justice will be available for those with access to funds, and denied for those without.
These cuts are going to be imposed to save a massive £215m. Yes, for £215m our criminal justice system is to be decimated. Forget for the moment that many believe the cuts and the attendant miscarriages of justice will cost money not save money. Forget for the moment that many believe access to justice is a fundamental right in a civilised society and to trample on it is contemptuous. Forget for a moment that the CBA, the CLSA, LCCSA and others have attempted to show the Ministry of Justice where else savings can be made. If £215m is to be slashed in this way, it must be for a pretty important reason, mustn’t it?
That depends on your point of view. The government announced in its budget that £200m is to be used to help fill in pot-holes.That was not a typo – potholes. This government prioritises potholes over our criminal justice system. Of course the cynics amongst you might suggest that there are few votes in protecting our CJS but everyone uses roads.
What does this say about the character of our government? You may think they are self-serving bureaucrats, more concerned as to grabbing votes than doing what’s right. Me, I couldn’t possibly comment.