There once was a shepherd boy, let’s call him for argument’s sake Chris Grayling. He became bored as he sat on the hillside watching the villagers try to make sense of what, his predecessor had promised would be transparency and ‘justice for all’, before bringing in Secret Courts.
To amuse himself little Chris took a great breath and sang out: ‘Wolf, Wolf, legal aid is paying £4 million to lawyers to pursue 11000 prisoner complaints! These unnecessary cases are threatening the legal aid fund for those that most deserve it and ruining the UK economy!’
The villagers came running up the hill to help little Chris drive away, what they were always told by the Daily Voice of Un-Reason and hatred were good-for-nothing legal aid lawyers, helping undeserving groups (women subject to domestic abuse, asylum seekers fleeing unimaginable horrors and yes, even prisoners).
But when they arrived at the top of the hill, they found no legal aid lawyers as rich as Croesus or otherwise, only letters and e-mails from the Prison Service and Ministry of Justice who wanted to return to the 1970’s when it was near impossible for anyone to challenge their unfair or unlawful practices.
Little Chris laughed at the sight of their angry faces.
‘Don’t cry “Wolf, cuts and unnecessary cases”, shepherd boy,’ said the villagers. ‘There are no real savings to be made by these further cuts. Don’t you know legal aid was already effectively removed in respect of prisoners around complaints as to their treatment back in 2009 under the then Labour government!’ They went grumbling back down the hill.
Later, little Chris sang out again, ‘Wolf Wolf! The legal aid lawyers are making a mockery of our justice system, and enriching themselves by defending the un-defendable!’ Little Chris was a bit short on the detail of how his new Ministry of Justice consultation would help, given the LSC (as then was) had had to grant prior authority whenever one of the wolf-like lawyers tried to take a prisoner ‘treatment’ case on, and had only granted such authority on 20 or so occasions in the last three years. He also forgot to mention that such advice and assistance cases were now subject to a standard fee of £220. But to his naughty delight, he watched the villagers run up the hill again to try and help him drive the now despised legal aid lawyers away.
When the villagers saw there were no wolfs, simply a legal aid system that was on its last legs, they sternly said: ‘Save your frightened song for when there is really something wrong! Don’t cry ‘wolf’ when there is NO wolf!’
But the boy just grinned and watched them go grumbling down the hill once more.
Later, little Chris himself introduced a REAL wolf in the form of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which threatens advice deserts and access to justice across the villages.
At sunset, everyone wondered why little Chris hadn’t returned to the village with the legal aid fund so that the most vulnerable in their society could get access to justice. When the villagers went up the hill, they found little Chris, laughing uproariously.
The Villagers said: ‘There really was a wolf here! The legal aid system has scattered! Why didn’t you cry out wolf?’ they asked. Little Chris just stared blankly and said ‘because I really don’t care’
This is of course a slightly amended version of a story from Aesop’s fable. Chris Grayling, like Jack Straw, is taking whole areas of law out of the scope of legal aid, thus ensuring that a number of areas of government decision-making are never subject to proper legal scrutiny or challenge.
Even more sadly very few in the village appear to realise or worse, give a damn about the slow death of legal aid, believing it to be simply for the undeserving, greedy human rights lawyers and part of some EU conspiracy to undermine the fabric of our society, rather than something introduced in 1949 as an integral part of the welfare state.
Author: Matt Evans
Matt Evans is the Director of the AIRE Centre, a specialist charity whose mission is to promote awareness of European law rights and assist marginalised individuals and those in vulnerable circumstances to assert those rights. Previously he was the Managing Solicitor at the Prisoners Advice Service for 6 years and worked at a number of leading legal aid firms including TV Edwards, Hickman and Rose and Hodge Jones and Allen.