Guy Gozem

QC at Lincoln House Chambers | Tower 12 | Manchester

Liberal Democrats need a big nudge

We have to persuade the Liberal Democrat MPs who haven’t signed the Early Day Motion that they must. It accords almost precisely with their party’s policy. Most of them don’t understand the reforms and their effects.

If you agree after reading this, please write to them individually. Some of them think you’re just making a fuss about your fees.

At the LibDem party conference on the 13th March 2011, the following motion was carried: Lib Dem Policy. It then became official party policy.

Please read it.

It is perfectly, unequivocally clear.

The man who proposed the motion thinks so too. [I’d better declare – Alistair Webster QC, who proposed it, is joint head of chambers with me, at Lincoln House Chambers, Manchester]

Here’s what Alistair wrote in ‘LibDemVoice’ magazine recently, specifically about the fact that the parliamentary party is completely ignoring the very specific party policy –

“The party’s policy on legal aid and access to justice is quite clear. It was hugely disappointing to see every facet of it ignored when the government forced through the changes to civil legal aid last year.

These proposals are desperately dangerous. They are ill thought out, incompetent and likely to do irreperable damage.

Why?

1. Rather than looking for alternative means of funding, the government proposes a huge set of changes, with fundamental consequences for the provision of services, without either modelling or trialling. This is directly in breach of the party policy and a pledge given by the Attorney-General.

2. The government has no idea whether its ideas are sustainable. It is the view of every solicitor and barrister who has considered it so far ( as far as I am aware ) that the proposals are not. They should be seen in the context of cuts of 38% and more over the last 8 years.

3. The proposals are predicated upon removing all choice of lawyer under legal aid. This is a fundamental change of constitutional significance. Does the government propose even to have a debate? No. It intends to push this through as secondary legislation and hopes to avoid even a vote.

4. The Ministry of Justice, and its various bodies, have been criticised, time and time again, for failure to trial and model proposed “reforms” ( i.e. cuts ). The conspicuous incompetence in the tendering process for translation services for the courts, which has been an unmitigated disaster and attracted strong criticism from the Select Committee, shouts out a strong warning as to the dangers posed.

Providing a strong Criminal Justice System is one of the most basic duties of the state. As pointed out by leading academics in The Times yesterday, these proposals threaten to do real and lasting damage.

Any member who cares about justice should fight them, and should make it clear to Nick Clegg and Tom McNally that these proposals MUST be abandoned and sensible suggestions for alternative funding, rather than unsustainable cuts, must be sought.”

There’s nothing in the coalition agreement that modifies the policy; I checked myself, and then I found this post from another ‘LibDemVoice’ contributor –

These proposals are – 

(a) not party policy,
(b) not in the coalition agreement,
(c) not compatible with the beliefs of a party that calls for a free, fair and open society and which seeks to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community,
(d) Illiberal and wrong.

So why are Liberal Democrat MPs ignoring their party policy? Many Liberal Democrats want to know the answer to that question, as do I. The only explanations (anecdotal) to date have apparently been ‘It’s just lawyers looking after their own fees’, and ‘well there’s no money’. That is a frightening level of ignorance/indifference and it’s up to us do something about it.

The Rt Hon Lord McNally – Ministry of Justice, Minister of State (and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords), otherwise known as Tom McNally, himself a Liberal Democrat Peer, has a published biography here.

 

It says of him: –

“He pledged to position the Liberal Democrats as “the voice of conscience and reform on issues such as civil liberties, human rights, changes in the legal system and access to justice”.

But now, of course, he is the Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice in the Lords.

He was challenged about the MoJ’s legal aid ‘reforms’ and asked how he could possibly square them with his party’s policy, as set out in the motion. He had a quite spectacular explanation, the like of which no lawyer will ever have come across before.

It was, he said, (reported here)

“a Saturday morning resolution, which cannot mean that parliamentarians have to follow it”.

So there you have it; Saturday morning resolutions don’t count. Rather stupidly, I actually looked at the Liberal Democrat constitution – of course there’s nothing in it to that effect. Or that Sunday resolutions count double. Perhaps he does the big shop with Mrs McNally on Saturdays?

We have to challenge the Lib Dems about this; we must let them know what we know about their party policy. More importantly, we’ve got to explain to them what we know about these proposals, and the devastating effect they will have on access to justice, the rule of law, and the criminal justice system. And as to us just making a fuss about ‘our fees’, (I don’t know who said it, just that it was said) we can tell them about the academic’s letter, the contributions of Lord Woolf and Sir Tony Hooper, etc etc. You know what to do.

But first, a few notable exceptions – 2 in the Lords, where Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames and Lord Thomas of Gresford made admirable contributions in the debate on the Queen’s Speech.

In the Commons, the EDM, http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/36  reveals that the following MP’s have signed up to it, with Bob Russell amending from this House “deplores the Government’s intention” to “urges the Government to reconsider its intention.”

Fine by me, as long as there’s a debate.

George, Andrew Liberal Democrats St Ives
Leech, John Liberal Democrats Manchester Withington
Sanders, Adrian Liberal Democrats Torbay
Russell, Bob Liberal Democrats Colchester

Now according to the Liberal Democrat website,

“The Liberal Democrats represent constituencies from Inverness to St Ives, Ceredigion to Norfolk. At the most recent election on May 6 2010, 57 Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament were elected.”

You can do the maths – if you’d care to let the others know what you think, and educate them about just how dangerous the MoJ proposals are, then you can find a list of all Liberal Democrat MPs, here at MPs – UK Parliament

Click on any MP’s name – I hope you’ll find full contact details, including telephone, constituency & HoC postal addresses, and both email addresses.

I hope, by Tuesday, Lib Dem MP’s inboxes will be overflowing.

Enjoy the Bank Holiday.

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This entry was posted on May 25, 2013 by in Transforming Legal Aid.
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