Ever wondered what life in the law is really like? Ever thought you would get the
opportunity of reading something written by a lawyer without being charged?
The Truth Is Out There
You know, I'm with Fox Mulder sometimes. Trust No-one. It's not all cakes and ale in this game. Not only are your opponents about to get you but, it seems, so is the very government that likes to shout about the rights of the individual.
Interestingly a government is a body of people, notably ungoverned. Ponder on that while I proceed to the...
A long time ago in a Country far, far away there used to be a system called Legal Aid. This was a magical force for good and allowed access to the legal system for one and all. The Legal Aid came in two flavours - Civil and Criminal (remember this it will be important later).
Because Legal Aid was provided from the depths of the public purse the hourly rates paid to lawyers were lower than they usually charged but no-one minded because of the amount of work that could be done for people who could not normally afford a solcitor or barrister.
Hark, I hear you cry, these must have truly been the poorest people in the land. Not so. The people Legal Aid helped the most were those on a moderate income, who worked hard and paid a mortgage and maybe even had children! These people were not on benefits but had little or no disposable income. All was well with the world. Solicitors and barristers knew they could act for their clients without fear or favour knowing that they would, ultimately, be paid.
The Times They Are A'Changing
Enter Lord Woolf and his idea of Access to Justice. The basic tenet of this is fantastic - everyone can get to the law if and when they need it. Then give this idea to a government. Any government - it doesn't matter what colour. Look what has happened.
- Legal Aid is, essentially, only available to those on benefits
- Legal Aid has all but been abolished for Personal Injury Claims
- Legal Aid rates for solicitors and barristers are paltry
- Legal Aid is (slowly) being abolished
As a replacement for some of the Legal Aid scheme the government introduced a scheme called Conditional Fees. You probably know it better as 'no-win, no fee'. This was supposed to encourage lawyers to take on cases with merits and discourage those claims which had none.
Let's stiff the Lawyers
As we all know, Solicitors and Barristers all earn at least £1,000,000 per year, we all drive Jaguars and we all live in Victorian splendour in our country mansions.
Well, whilst I hate to disillusion you, if that's your perception of lawyers then I suspect you next birthday present should be a double lobotomy and ten rolls of rubber wallpaper. Many solicitors firms have sizeable overdrafts and any number of sole practitioners have gone out of business since the changes in Legal Aid.
Not content with introducing a new method of getting paid to the lawyers, the government then went on to draft some of its most impenetrable legislation in order to regulate things. To add to the hilarity, if a solicitor or barrister fails to comply with this legisation by so much as a comma (alright it's not quite that bad) then he might not be paid.
Insurance companies love this. They have been merrily paying out damages to genuinely injured people and then running the solicitors and barristers around for their fees. Let's not forget that the lawyers have WON their case (often after a very difficult time with their opponents). Just to prove that there is no fiddling going on, the Courts have, to some degree, approved this sort of behaviour.
At every turn there has been pressure to reduce lawyers fees and endless spin about a compensation culture. I'm afraid that this is a great steaming pile of fetid dingo's kidneys. Do not be pulled in by it. People who make claims are usually entirely honest. If they're not they get uncovered pretty quickly by their own solcitor who will pull the plug.
Spin, Spin and Spin Again.
The insurance companies would have you believe that their poor performance is down to the blood sucking lawyers and their ne'er do well clients. I have news. They're doing poorly because the stock market is (or was) on its posterior. Don't believe them (as they only have their own commercial interests at heart) or the government. They are deconstructing Legal Aid because it isn't a vote loser. In the meantime they're doing their best to make lawyers look very bad indeed. All this irony from a government led by someone who used to be a practicing barrister (and whose wife still is!).
And That's Not All Folks
Most of what I've said above only goes to claims for personal injury. What about all the people who have other problems? For example
- Neighbour Dispute
- Contract Problems
- Defective Goods
- Employment Problems
- Landlord Problems
to mention but a few. Help for them is rapidly being eroded as well. You can get Legal Aid (or Public Funding as it is now known) if you have a very low income indeed. If you have a modest income or some savings, you can't.
Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!
No-one, apart from the Law Society, is making much noise about this. Even they are doing very little and seem content to watch everyone be subjugated to the 'new rules'. They fail to understand that there is a big difference between kneeling down and bending over.
I invite everyone to make as much fuss about this nonsense as possible. If the public don't start dealing with this now then they may well come a time when many people are excluded from access to the Courts because they simply cannot afford it. Ask yourselves why people with a genuine complaint, that they can take to law, should be prevented from so doing simply because of cost. Or why a Defendant cannot be defended because a solicitor or barrister can't get paid for the work they would do.
Without access to the Courts an individual cannot enforce their rights - thus what rights do they have? The view of the populus appears to be, 'Who Cares?' That has to change.
Access to Justice? You decide.