Friday, July 03, 2015

The law, in its majestic equality, allows both poor and rich alike to access the courts

(With apologies to Anatole France)

Yesterday in Question Time the Greens' David Clendon took the government to task over legal aid cuts. National has cut legal aid funding by 15% in the last five years and reduced access, leading to a rise in clients who cannot afford lawyers representing themselves (which is both bad for them - the lawyer who represents themself has a fool for a client - and for the court system, as their inexperience leads to delay and disruption). But National doesn't think this is a problem, and certainly not one attributable to its cuts. And it insists that

the courts are open to those who wish to avail themselves of them

In other words, "let them eat cake". Which is I guess the answer we can expect from Ministers on quarter of a million dollar salaries about anything affecting real people.

Meanwhile, in the UK, we can get a glimpse of our future. Over there, the government has also cut legal aid, driven by the same relentless push for austerity and uncaring attitude to access to justice. The result? Yesterday, the lawyers went on strike:
Today is the first day of a wildcat legal strike across the country. Those who find themselves arrested will struggle to get legal aid representation. Within days, the courts system could grind to a halt.

It is happening across England and Wales. The strike will be followed in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, London, Devon, Leeds, Cardiff, Halifax, Derby, Birmingham, Sunderland, north and south Tyneside, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Bradford, Hull, Kent and Reading. It's impact will be felt everywhere.

It is not technically a strike. Lawyers can't strike. Instead, meetings across the country saw solicitors and barristers gather together and come to individual decisions about whether they would back the action. It is a convoluted process with a complex way of refusing labour.

Basicly, they're refusing to accept legal aid cases anymore. Which means that people arrested will all have to queue for the services of already overworked duty solicitors, and will (if sensible) exercise their right to refuse to be interviewed without a lawyer present, meaning that they can't be interviewed at all. The courts will face similar blockages. If the strike holds, the entire system will fall over, because it essentially operates by goodwill.

That's only one part of the problem, but if New Zealand lawyers want to be properly paid for legal aid services, maybe they should try the same thing here?