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article imageOp-Ed: The Legal Aid cuts may not be all bad news

By Alexander Baron     Apr 12, 2013 in Politics
The Legal Aid cuts imposed on the UK as part of its "austerity" package, have been widely panned, but there is an up side to them.
These proposed cuts have now gone out to consultation, which means what it always means, the Government will listen to what people say, and then do what it intended from the off. There is though a plus side.
With the possible exception of certain types of alleged terrorist offences, anyone who is arrested is entitled to consult a solicitor at a police station for free, even a multimillionaire. This is not covered by Legal Aid, but is a sensible provision. Legal Aid is granted in a wide variety of circumstances to an equally wide type of applicant, including serving prisoners. Should it be? Obviously if the applicant meets the necessary criteria, and if these criteria are reasonable. There are times though when any sort of assistance is manifestly not reasonable.
If you are not familiar with the name Ralston Edwards, he achieved notoriety in 1996 when he stood trial at the Central Criminal Court for rape. Dismissing his legal team, he conducted his own defence, subjecting his alleged victim to a gruelling six day cross-examination. Unsurprisingly he was convicted. Edwards had a history of violence against women, and was given two life sentences.
One would have expected that to have been the last we heard of him, but sadly it was not. Like not a few guilty men - and women - who have been convicted of heinous crimes on overwhelming evidence, he blamed everyone but himself for his predicament, and from his maximum security cell he brought a series of civil actions against his solicitors, the Home Office, the Treasury Solicitor...and if it was not incompetence or some vast government conspiracy that was the problem, it was - bore, bore - racism.
Finally, in 2001, he was estopped from bringing any further such (frivolous) actions after the Attorney General stepped in, and he was branded a vexatious litigant.
Prisoners are granted Legal Aid regularly for all manner of reasons; two years ago it was reported that Soham murderer Ian Huntley was suing the prison service for up to £95,000 after being attacked and seriously injured by another inmate out to make a name for himself. Most claims brought by prisoners don't fall into that category, but there is good evidence that some are at best borderline frivolous, and a review of how they are handled is long overdue.
Cutting Legal Aid in industrial tribunal cases is also not necessarily a bad thing. Employers have long complained about the unfairness of this system which has enabled disgruntled ex-employees to compel them to run up large costs with frivolous claims at no cost to themselves. A certain Lord Sugar spoke out against this today after successfully defending a claim against a woman who by her own admission was paid nearly £2,000 a week to do next to nothing. This is a racket that has been going on for well over 20 years, and includes claims of racial discrimination, which are easy to make and difficult if not impossible to refute, and such claims are not necessarily limited to disgruntled former employees. In Bradford City Metropolitan Council v Arora, 1989, a Sikh woman who applied for but was turned down for a teaching post won her case and was awarded a total of £3,000 by a tribunal against her employer.
She was said to have been a victim of "sex and race discrimination", even though she already held a fairly senior position with the Council. In effect, her employer was fined £3,000 (plus costs) for giving her an interview.
When this sort of nonsense happens in the public sector, the taxpayer or ratepayer is left to pick up the tab, but in the private sector it can bankrupt a small firm. Employers must be permitted to sack inefficient or just plain bad workers without being taken to the cleaners in reprisal. If the Legal Aid cuts include sensible reforms to employment law, they will be beneficial to employers, and this in turn can only be good for employees and employment.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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