Monday, March 17, 2008

The great legal aid cash cow?

The joy of being on holiday these days is that hotels have WiFi, even in Bulgaria. Banished from the room has I have been whilst my traveling companion tries to get some sleep after a night of putting up with snoring (makeshift ear plugs are now in place), I have taken the opportunity to have a look at some politics. I've been without news for a few days and it was starting to get a bit much.

Having said this I decided to have a look at some of the FoI requests that have been made to different departments over the past months and there are of course some gems in there, there really are. My favoruite has to be a response from the Ministry of Justice about the amount of money spent on legal aid, or more correctly the best paid barristers in the year 2006/07.

The thing that struck me as beautiful about the response has to be the fact that unlike most FoIs this one comes with many caveats. Nay.. it even comes with a Government line for the obvious question that someone might ask when reading the response. You have to love the desire to offer a counter spin in an FoI request right?

Unfortunately I am not able to link to the piece right now as I am using email posting, but essentially the highest paid Barrister last year was someone called Balbir Singh who received £957,000. There are actually three barristers above £900K in case you were wondering.

And what is the line? Well apparently we must remember that the Barrister has to pay VAT on the figure, and, more importantly in answer to the obvious question of 'how can you justifiy this' we are told in the FAQ that it's not the Ministry's fault but the Courts.

Well excuse me a minute, but isn't the MoJ responsible for the courts? Surely they can't shift blame on to the courts who are just carrying out their policies about legal aid can they? Oh wait. They can.

You may get a post tomorrow, it depends on whether (a) the snoring is sorted, and (b) if I am even more burnt on my forehead by the beating sun at the top of a mountain!


Benedict White said...

This may show a cash cow for a few legal aid barristers, but most legal aid lawyers get relatively little.

Why this lot get so much more is a mystery.

Adam said...

Surely, given that legal aid is supposed to provide people with a competent defense, the problem is with the cost of a competent defense? If the cases were complex, don't the barristers have to pay a bunch of other people from that money?

There's a problem if they were overcharging for the services provided, of course, but that's a different thing to legal aid being expensive. If you want to see the results of legal aid on the cheap, the American criminal justice system is pretty much it; overworked and underfunded public defenders and poor people disproportionately more likely to end up in prison given the same offense as a wealthier person employing their own attorney.

It always seemed to me that one of the best things about the UK legal system is that barristers may work for prosecution or defense on a contract basis and that your legal aid barrister can be damn good.