When Michael Gove was appointed Justice Minister my fellow lawyers were worried. It will mean more legal aid cuts, said one criminal defence barrister. Probably, I said; he is seen as an enforcer. I was wrong however.
Minister Gove said there will be no further cuts to legal aid. Hurray! It should be done for free instead. Oh dear. By people who do not know what they are doing. Oh no.
Michael Gove would like wealthy barristers and solicitors to ‘examine their conscience’ and give a little back by doing more work pro bono, in other words for free. He will lead by example by sacrificing his entire ministerial salary and do his job for free. Just kidding!! That part did not make it into the speech.
Mr Gove would have us believe that wealthy lawyers are ‘taking tax from the poor.’ He cannot really believe this. As he no doubt knows, wealthy anybodies pay their tax so that that tax can be redistributed to the poor and working poor. It is socialist nonsense to say otherwise.
But, apart from the fact that he threatens to institute some kind of indentured servitude for lawyers, what he is suggesting is madness. The wealthiest lawyers are in the commercial and chancery bar; I know some of them. The creaking legal system that belongs to poor can be found in the criminal and family courts.
Those accused of a crime, victims of crime and children in the care system need a good legal system. But here is the rub: commercial and chancery lawyers soon to be shamed into pro bono work do not have a clue about criminal work or needed care work.
They don’t know one end of a bail application from the other, nor to they know what emotional harm looks like so asking them to prop up the creaking justice system for free is ludicrous.
I can just see Gove in his office now hatching this hare-brained plan. Oh that lot, those lawyers over there earn a bucket load. If they would just do a tiny bit of work for free over here in the criminal courts all will be solved. No it will not. Only rowing back on the legal aid cuts – started by Labour – will do that job.
What a person accused of a crime, or indeed a victim of crime, or a child to be taken into care needs is a properly remunerated lawyer who knows what they are doing. They do not need a double first from Oxford who would prefer to be haggling over some million pound shipping contract. Criminal barristers are sometimes paid £50 for a case. I should know – I was one.
It used to be called getting justice on the cheap. Now Gove believes he can get justice for free. What we all know is that you get what you pay for.