This is the text of an email,from Tim Farron MP to a constituent dated yesterday, 25th June 2013.
He is clearly well briefed on the issues, and has seen through the MoJ spin.
Thankyou very much for your email dated 12 June detailing your concerns about the current discussions to reform Legal Aid. I absolutely share your worries.
At the moment this is just a consultation, not a firm proposal. However, awarding contracts based on price and dividing caseloads between providers removes all incentives for contracted providers to work hard in the interests of the client, and the scope for conflicts of interest are great.
Furthermore, cost comparisons with the systems in other countries are in some cases bogus. In France, for example, an inquisitorial system means that the judge’s office bears most of what our Legal Aid budget has to cover.
It seems to me that criminal work plays a vital role in keeping our legal system of a quality which is regarded highly throughout the world and which forms the ethical backbone of what is essentially a commercial undertaking. Everyone has the right to a fair trial. If you have to represent yourself, or must depend on a cheap lawyer not of your choosing, this must raise huge questions of the legitimacy of the system.
Our Legal Aid budget is the same now as it was twenty years ago. It can hardly be said to have spiralled out of control. In fact it is a miracle that it still provides support to so many people. I believe these changes could result in many more people representing themselves in court – which means trials would last longer and cost more – and that physical access to lawyers will be reduced, meaning clients will have to travel further at greater cost to see their solicitor.
I am desperately concerned that the relatively small proposed savings could end in wreaking damage on a massive scale. Our Lib Dem Lawyers Association has devised some possible alternative funding strategies for Legal Aid, including restrained funds, and requiring corporations to take out insurance. These are ideas which I believe deserve to be explored much more fully.
Nick Clegg has recently said that he is very concerned about the proposed changes, and that it might well be preferable to investigate alternative means of making the savings. The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has also been highly critical of the proposals.
I fully intend to lobby the ministers directly. I will also be raising this matter with Lord McNally and Nick Clegg at the earliest opportunity.