Graham Colley - Speech to propose Legal Aid Emergency Motion - Liberal Democrat Conference - 18 September 2013

Graham Colley Speech to propose

Legal Aid Emergency Motion Liberal Democrat  Conference 18 September 2013

 

Conference, as Liberal Democrats, we believe in justice and fairness and equality.  That is why we are debating this motion today.

 

We are not debating this motion for the sake of lawyers. It is because Justice, Fairness and Equality are at the root of our legal system and our legal system is at the root of our society.

 

We are also debating this motion because, sometimes, when conference makes a policy, it needs to repeated in order for it to  be heard. Our party policy was passed almost unanimously in Sheffield in 2011.Remember - no senior party figure voted against. But, it has not been heeded.

 

 

So why are we here? On 9th April, the MoJ published a consultation paper "Transforming Legal Aid".   The Criminal Legal Aid budget is just over £1 billion out of a national government spend of £718 billion. The Ministry was required to obtain cuts of £220 million. It was proposed to do this by reducing the number of contracts given to law firms from 1600 to 400, in effect,  closing 1200 small firms and paving the way for G4S Serco and Eddy Stobbart to run criminal defence services.

 

Despite the short, six week, consultation period, 16,000 responses were made. On the assumption that they worked on Saturdays and Sundays the MOJ considered them at rate of 175 per day and has come back within about 90 days with amended proposals. They required a further response within only four weeks -  Two weeks of which have now gone.   Yes , The new paper does show that the Ministry really has listened to concerns about price competitive tendering. However, in return,  it has brought forward cuts of between 17 1/2%.

 

Of course, given the requirement to cut public expenditure, no area can be ring fenced. But, in its response to the MOJ, LibDem Lawyers proposed 2 policies that would not only produce the savings wanted, but considerably more.

Firstly, we proposed the use of restrained funds for criminal defence costs. Currently such funds have to languish until after a trial where, if there is a conviction, the Home Office tries, but usually fails, to get their hands on them. It makes so, so, much more sense to use them to pay for defence costs.

45% of Criminal Legal Aid goes on complex fraud trials. These almost always involve company directors. So,  secondly,  LibDem Lawyers proposed a compulsory insurance scheme, so that directors have to insure against the costs of criminal defence.

These two proposals alone  would reduce Criminal Legal Aid costs by far more than the Ministry want!

 

The MoJ has a bad record of introducing policies without understanding their outcomes  (translation services, tagging, prison transport and more) and has been often criticised by Alan Beith's committee.

It was this record of failure which prompted the Sheffield motion's demand for proper trialling and modelling.

 

All week we have rightly been talking about a stronger economy - a fairer society. But, this is an occasion where a fairer society helps build a stronger economy. The reputation of our justice system is a national asset. From Russian oligarchs to international companies, the world recognises the Justice Fairness and Equality of our legal system. But, it is not just an admiration.  Billions and billions of pounds nearly 2% of GDP are earnt in deciding international cases in our courts.

 

Yes, you can prune and prune and prune. However, if you prune too much, there is a danger that you kill the tree that produces the fruit that helps build that stronger economy. Caring for and nurturing justice is, truly, a case where building a fairer society, builds a stronger economy.

 

In addition and of major concern, the consultation proposes removing the Legal Aid on the basis of status. Non-residents will receive no Legal Aid. Prisoners will be heavily restricted.  There will be constraints on judicial review. We also await the report on these proposals the Joint Committee on Human Rights.  

 

Of course, messages from this conference are not just for itself. I would like to send one to the Lord Chancellor. Mr Grayling, I would like to remind you of a quote:

"the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country"

"the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country"

That was a quote by a Liberal Home Secretary, but, Mr Grayling, it was also made by a great coalition leader and perhaps, for you, as a Conservative,  someone you would consider to be your greatest Prime Minister. That quote, Mr Grayling, was made by Winston Churchill.

 

Conference, savings can be made. However, they need proper consideration. I ask you to support the motion calling for a stay and a full review. Conference, vote for a Fairer Society to build a Stronger Economy. Vote for Justice Fairness and Equality.  Conference, please, support the motion.