"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)