This is a follow-up to Oliver Kirk’s recent blogpost on this site. (See below) The outburst of unity between our two professions that it gave rise to was unprecedented.
Oliver, also known as @kirkabout is a High Street solicitor and HCA in Kent. He has practised in Legal Aid crime, serving his local community for the last 15 years. He is a diligent, hard working, and conscientious solicitor, with a large client base and deservedly excellent reputation, like so many of his fellows who do the same work.
On 2nd May, Keith Vaz MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, issued an open invitation on Twitter for anyone to send him examples of what will happen if the Government’s proposals on PCT are allowed to go ahead. So far it has had 240 retweets. This is Oliver Kirk’s response.
It is, to say the least, chilling.
We are grateful to him, and to Keith Vaz for taking up the fight on behalf of the UK Justice system.
Dear Mr Vaz
You recently asked on twitter for concrete examples of the effects that the Governments’ proposed introduction of competitive tendering will have on the Justice System.
I hope that I can help you understand the devastating consequences that those proposed reforms will wreak.
I have appended a link here to a letter that I wrote some time ago to my constituency MP Laura Sandys. I hope this sets out some of the concerns in a helpful manner.
However, over and above those, as time goes on, I have had further time to consider the effects of the proposed reforms.
It seems clear to me that those reforms will inevitably lead to the extinction of the publicy funded criminal justice system.
Here is why:
Should Price Competitive Tendering be introduced, then as the time for announcing the successful bidders nears, the various solicitors firms currently providing Criminal Defence work will be in an increasingly perilous financial position. It will, sooner or later become clear to their banks that overdraft facilities will have to be called in, which will cause those firms either to struggle significantly or to fail entirely.
The new model that the Government envisages is of large “superfirms”. It is envisaged that these may be formed by mergers and the like, but this conveniently ignores a vital question.
Why would any such “superfirm” want to take on the existing liabilities of smaller firms? The answer is that they will not.
Why should these large corporates take on the debts, liabilities, let alone employees of say the 10 firms of solicitors that they replace, when they will also immediately have to take on the burden of making the staff redundant, of buying its way out of contracts and leases of the buildings they occupy? They will not. They will wait for those firms to collapse in a mountain of debt, and then scavenge what is left, because the only thing that will matter to them is profit. As they will undoubtedly say, their first duty is to their shareholders.
If I am right, and this is so, the consequence is likely to be that as firms fail, and staff are made redundant, solicitors will go bankrupt – and consequently be restricted in their ability to practice.
What, while all this meltdown is happening, will become of the unfortunate “legally assisted person”, who might be on remand awaiting trial? What of the trials that may be aborted due to firms going out of business? Who is going to be in a position to take on these cases?
The Governments’ impact assessment into the proposed reforms makes passing reference to the fact that a number of firms of solicitors will close. The plan is that that number will be over 1000.
The impact of that has simply been glossed over. The impact upon the solicitors and their staff is obvious. The impact upon those they represent is potentially disastrous.
Imagine receiving this letter whist on remand:
“Dear Mr X
I regret to inform you that the solicitor that was previously assigned to represent you has now gone into liquidation. As a consequence, the fee earner and advocate who were dealing with your case will no longer be able to do so.
In view of the short time left before your trial and the amount of work that your new team have to do before trial, we are left with no alternative but to apply to the Court for an adjournment.
What are the other consequences of the closure of a firm of solicitors? It is not merely a question of shutting down shutters and walking away. Records must of course be kept. Files must be kept for 6 years.
Professional indemnity insurance must continue to be paid for 7 years.
All of this is quite apart from other costs mentioned above, that are associated with the closure of any business.
It is important to bear in mind, when considering what are on any view, fundamental changes to the Criminal Justice System, that the amount that the Government seeks to save in these reforms is in fact very modest indeed.
The consequences both for Justice and for individuals will be massive.
Please bear in mind that once the system is broken, as it will be by these proposals, it will not be possible to put the genie back into the bottle. For the first time in my 15 plus years in the profession, people are talking of leaving. Leaving the country. Leaving the profession.
Both solicitors and barristers alike are frankly dismayed at the contempt with which the Government appears to view us, and the cynical way that it attempts to portray us in the media.
What are the consequences of a poorly funded and resourced Legal System? A decline in confidence in the Rule of Law. Citizens will feel that cases are both poorly prosecuted and defended. Guilty people will walk free, and the innocent convicted. If there is no confidence in the Rule of Law, Law and Order breaks down. People take the law into their own hands. They stop reporting crimes to the Police. They resort to vigilantism.
Law is the glue that holds society together. A Conservative Councillor recently said to me that he “objects to paying for others to use the legal system”.
Well, if tax payers do not pay for it, no one else will. If there is only Justice for the rich, that is no Justice at all.
That is why I object so strongly to these proposals, and why this is not (or should not be) a matter of party politics. This is a matter that strikes at the heart of our Country and which should concern each and every one of its’ citizens.
Thank you for your interest.