I have just had the dubious pleasure of watching Vera Baird QC, our legal aid minister, being questioned on Channel 4 lunchtime news about the legal aid reforms. When asked how vulnerable clients were going to manage if they have to travel up to 50 miles to get essential legal advice, she just shook her head in a patronizing manner and said that that this was simply not going to happen.
Actually, she told us, it is going to be better for everyone after the reforms come in, because (she implied) solicitors will be forced to manage their practices properly which will mean more money and work for all. In fact, those silly old solicitors are just making a fuss about nothing and will soon be grateful to the government for making them carry out these essential changes which will make their working lives so much better.
How stupid is she? Does she not know that all legal aid practices have had years of efficiency measures being imposed on them, auditing, five year plans, cost cutting exercises and the like. Does she really think that she, a government minister and barrister, knows better than the partners how to run a legal aid firm? And does she really think that solicitors are going to carry on doing legal aid work if these reforms come in, when there is other much more profitable work to be done? It is not solicitors, remember, who are going to suffer for all this, it is the clients.
So far as I can see there are two possible reasons for the governments attitude. One is that they want to kill the legal profession dead because an active legal profession is an embarrassment to them as they keep pointing out problems in their legislative program etc. The other is that they don’t have the cash and the Health Service is a more popular destination for any cash that they do have. I really hope it is the second, but sometimes I get paranoid and wonder if it is the first.
But if I had not given up legal aid work a long time ago, I would be very much tempted to give it up now and to write to Ms Baird and tell her that it was her smug patronizing attitude which had been the last straw.
If you feel as annoyed about all this as I do, support the Law Societies “What price Justice?” campagn.