Thursday, 8 November 2012

Cabaret Voltaire

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" – often misattributed to the French philosopher & writer Voltaire - was said by his biographer Evelyn Hall to illustrate his beliefs.

Freedom of speech, access to justice and the right to be heard are cornerstones of our society championed by a legal system that retains the respect and envy of the modern world - despite the battering it is taking from the current administration.

With the revelation, courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Daily Mail, of the cost to the taxpayer of Abu Hamza’s legal bills the Law Society is to step in to help the government bolster public confidence in the legal aid system.

Ironic? Or a demonstration of the objectivity, compassion and altruism that are essential components of the rule of law?

One of the longest-running shows on the London legal scene is said to have been maintained by payments from the legal aid fund to Hamza’s lawyers totalling some £680,000. That’s on top of the Treasury’s legal bill, of course.

The government is squirming, anticipating popular uproar. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (not bad for someone with no legal background at all) has ordered an “immediate review” explaining that “he is concerned about public confidence in the legal aid system”.

The Law Society has already warned HMG not to lose sight of the “constitutional importance” of legal aid which “was devised to ensure that nobody is unable to enforce or defend a right for want of the means to do so”.

Justice director, Angela Patrick, has observed that ‘Human rights cases can involve complex challenges to some of the most treasured government policies; without legal aid, the state could be insulated from effective scrutiny’.

Like it or not, it has to be right. A more adept administration, relying less on common rhetoric and more on cultured debate, might have brought the curtain down far earlier but you can’t simply close the theatre.

Are you still to learn that the end and perfection of our victories is to avoid the vices and infirmities of those whom we subdue? (Alexander III)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Invest in the best

I read this morning that a green paper on plans to expand the Territorial Army will be announced on 8 November. It’s going to include financial incentives for businesses to employ members of the TA and a provision for two weeks paid leave for any reservists employed in the public sector.

Also this morning I posted on my website a report of how a government department – the paradoxically-named Department for Communities and Local Government – got caught out on a contractual dispute and was successfully sued in the High Court for more than £760,000.

Why did it lose?  Because, to quote from the report, the contract was “not drafted by lawyers”.

Fantastic.  How much money did our government waste in costs of the litigation only to blow the best part of a million pounds which, one infers, could have been saved if it had spent by comparison a modest sum on people who knew what they were doing.

What are these reservists, paid for out of the public purse and/or by struggling businesses that the government is currently trying to help (work that one out) going to be doing? 

Will we be sending them out in place of the highly-trained marines and others who continue nevertheless to be killed by a very capable enemy in Afghanistan? 

Just two examples of how this country now seems to be wedded to a strategy of second-rate performance.  They’re two of many – read all about the legal system and the health service in many earlier posts on this blog.

This is all done in the name of economy, because we need to cut expenditure.  Show me where any of it is working.

The contract dispute – expensive mistake.

The NHS – paying out millions every week for its incompetence,

The Ministry of Injustice dismantling our legal system to save virtually nothing.

The MOD (already quite proficient at some of the above) killing off anybody to save money.

We have to get back to doing what Great Britain has for the last few hundred years done so well - leading the field - even if it costs a few quid.

Invest in the best. All else follows.