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11/10/2006

Liberty on the barricades

Jonathon Freedland has an eminently sensible opinion piece in the Guardian on why legal aid matters and where Carter is a disaster. The article is clear and impassioned, but also sadly true in suggesting that this is unlikely to be an issue that leads to the barricades springing up on the boulevards. Delacroix’s Liberty, leading her class mixed band to freedom under the equal rule of law, would weep.

Civil legal aid takes a back seat again, though. Given the apparent dramatic increase in ‘middle class’ seekers after help and advice that the CAB has noted over the last few years, and that I have anecdotally heard about from local advice centres, perhaps a campaign about access to the law for civil matters might have a wider resonance than than has been thought.

The means test for civil legal aid has a bar set so low that large swathes of yer ordinary working stiffs can’t afford legal assistance. let alone representation. When a CFA isn’t appropriate and your insurance stiffs you, who you gonna call? I don’t know where I’d go and I’m in the business.
And as things are going, even those who pass the means test will have a hard time finding a provider.

The simple cry is that the law should therefore be cheaper. Maybe yes – but don’t blame the legal aid solicitors for putting the price up. They work for not a lot at all and have mostly got very good at doing alot with very little. But achieving miracles on bugger all is beyond possibility. Equal access to the law looks set to end not with a bang, but with a projected cost efficiency.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

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