Court Cuts – London Review of Books

Posted July 24th, 2015 in legal aid, news by sally

‘In his first speech as lord chancellor, Michael Gove warned of a ‘dangerous inequality’ in the justice system. There was, he said, a ‘gold standard’ for the wealthy and a ‘creaking, outdated system’ for everyone else. This, from a minister in a government that has made enormous cuts to legal aid, is a little like Orestes asking for mercy on account of his being an orphan. Even so, his diagnosis is correct. What should be done? Gove suggested that rich lawyers should do more pro bono work. That is a bad idea. City solicitors are trained in transactions, not asylum and immigration; instead of donating an hour of their time, they should pay an hour’s wages to a legal charity. The more fundamental question is who should bear the cost of providing a legal system. Should lawyers, for example, contribute more than bankers, footballers or other wealthy individuals? I doubt it, though the argument has been made in the past. ‘There exists a moral obligation on the part of the profession,’ the second Lawrence Report said in 1925, ‘in return for the monopoly in the practice of law which it enjoys, to render gratuitous legal assistance to those members of the community who cannot afford to pay for such assistance.’ The grain of truth here is that monopoly providers can owe special obligations. What about victims of injustice? Should they pay higher taxes to fund the legal system? The idea seems absurd.’

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London Review of Books, 30th July 2015