In an article penned for The Times, Ben Gummer MP has slammed the Government’s critics within the legal profession. Under the heading “Don’t pay heed to the wailing of the bewigged Scargills” Mr Gummer sets out his view that Access to justice should be an economically driven commitment.
Free access to justice is not just a commitment, it should be the right of a citizen in a civilised country. Whilst Legal Aid will remain for criminal cases (though even here it will be curtailed) much access to the civil courts will be severely cut.
Mr Gummer quotes the Law Society and the Bar Council, calling them the legal trade unions. Neither of these organisations are known for making outlandish statements. The Law Society, in responding to the Government consultation on legal aid reform, warned “The Government runs the risk of reduced social cohesion, increased criminality, reduced business and economic efficiency.”
What was most surprising about this article by Mr Gummer was that he resorted to the cheap tactic of comparing access to justice with cuts to soldiers, nurses and teachers. This is a New Labour tactic, much attacked by the Conservative Party in opposition, and in resorting to it Mr Gummer indicates that he is probably losing his argument.
It is not true that access to justice would take money from regiments, hospitals and schools, as asserted by Mr Gummer, and he must know that. It is an economic illiterate argument which he should, as a thinking MP, be prepared to rise above. If the Government wants to find the money for proper access to justice that money doesn’t need to come from defence, education or health spending.
It is also not true to say that the legal profession is against Legal Aid reform. Many in the profession were astonished that Labour MPs charged with fraud attempted to get legal aid to claim that they were not subject to the rule of law because of Parliamentary privilege. There are a number of headline stories that can be pointed to by those who want to make a fuss about these things. That these are the exceptions rather than the rule is a point lost on those who need to make this argument.