The #SAVEUKJUSTICE demonstration outside the Ministry of Justice yesterday (4 June) was well attended. Coverage of the event has been extensive and well dealt with in the law blogs.
A few observations…
The unified stance taken by the Bar and Law Society has been a remarkable feature of the campaign.Leading lights from the legal profession have given time and thought to putting the message across through blogs and on twitter. Many bloggers have written on the subject. Patrick Tornsey has a comprehensive listing of blogs written by lawyers and others from the legal blogging community.
Unfortunately, the extensive use of the #SAVEUKJUSTICE hashtag on Twitter served to irritate some, including lawyers, and the PR was almost certainly not sufficiently directed to the issue of fairness – at times, the message seemed to focus on how little the lawyers were being paid, which is not a message likely to receive sympathy from some members of the public.
The petition, as of today, stands at a remarkable 79,000. But there are many thousands more lawyers – so it should have been relatively straightforward to get the 100,000 signatures needed to persuade Parliament to debate Ministry of Justice plans? On the assumption that many thousands of signatories to the petition would have come from non-lawyer members of the public through publicity being generated by lawyers on Twitter – and, importantly, Stephen Fry, Bianca Jagger and other ‘celebrities’ who punted the petition actively, pleasingly – it must follow that a good 40,000+ lawyers did not sign the petition.
I have spoken to quite a few commercial and City lawyers recently. Some said, predictably, that they were not really aware of the issues and did not use twitter. A couple took a more hostile line and felt that the message of the criminal lawyers was wrong and too oriented to their own jobs and not the interests of the public. Others have said – and I agree with this latter stance – the message could have been addressed more to the needs of the people and the importance of preserving the Rule of Law rather than ‘profession oriented’. The message was not clear enough, they argued: There was a ‘whiff of’ loss of law jobs with the reduction from 1600 to 400 firms, which may have given the impression that this reduction was more important than justice itself.
Certainly, I saw quite a few tweets along the lines of ‘Lawyers have been keeping access to justice exclusive with high fees for years’
I am not a practitioner. I am a mildly reclusive observer. But I do believe that the criminal barristers and solicitors are right. The Rule of Law will be compromised by Christopher Grayling’s reforms and I do believe that these criminal lawyers, the majority of whom do not get that well paid – are regarding the profession as vocational rather than commercial.
The City and large commercial law firms turn over billions. Their lawyers are well paid – very well paid. So what? They run commercial businesses. Their clients are men and women of commerce, large corporations, banks, in a global legal market. A cynic might observe – and I am a cynic at times – that commercial and City lawyers are more interested in the ‘certainty of law’ rather than the rule of law. I once heard a senior commercial lawyer say that “Contract law is not about ‘Justice’. We want certainty so that we can advise clients to avoid well established the legal pitfalls and operate at the lawful edge of the legal envelope.’
I also heard words to the effect ‘Any bloody idiot can tell a client what they cannot do. We don’t want bloody idiots. We want good lawyers who can tell the client what they can do within the law as it set down by Parliament.’
The City/commercial firm practice is a different world – but it is not a world paid for by taxpayers. Of course, the City and commercial firms benefit from the reputation of our legal system and Rule of Law. As a friend of mine @taxbod observed bluntly on Twitter only t’other night – ‘But yet, any of those civil/commercial flog the British justice system when whoring to Russian chavs etc.’ Sometimes… blunt… is good.
Legal Aid is paid for by taxpayers, most legal aid lawyers are not well paid. A legal system where people are not given a fair hearing – because they cannot afford lawyers, civil and criminal – is not a fair legal system
That being said – congratulations to all – lawyers and non-lawyers alike – for a good campaign.
The Ministry of Justice seems to have won the mainstream media PR war with their coverage in The Daily Mail yesterday: ‘£15m for just one firm on legal aid gravy train Scale of taxpayers’ bill revealed as Coalition vows to save £200m’.
But the campaign is not over. Surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility to get over 100,000 signatures? Even if lawyers have to get on the phone to non-criminal law lawyers? And lawyer or non-lawyer, if you would like to sign the petition – you may do so here.