I was very concerned to read in the Law Society Gazette today that if the proposed reforms to legal aid go ahead, it will lead to the ‘immediate dismantlement’ of specialist civil liberty legal teams in some firms. This is because cases dealt with by specialist providers tend to be more complex and time-consuming and are likely to be unprofitable under the reformed ‘fixed fee’ system. Government cannot expect solicitors to maintain a service if it is going to be run at a loss or at no profit.
Michael Schwarz, partner and Bindman & Partners said “Clients will not have access to specialist lawyers and their human rights will be at risk. It will be an encouragement for negligence or abuse by state officials, and is a recipe for injustice.”
A LSC spokesman trotted out the usual statement saying that the numbers of people helped has increased. But we all know that statistics can be very misleading. Maybe more people wanting to know what to do about their grazed knees after tripping on a paving stone in the High Street have been advised via a telephone helpline, but what about those with serious human rights problems who need more specialised help? Does giving basic legal telephone help to ten people really equate to a better service than helping one person with a serious but expensive human rights problem? It is certainly cheaper, so maybe in government-speak it is.
It is ironic that the government which introduced the Human Rights Act is now going to be responsible for taking away the ability of people to use it.