There was something vaguely comical about the sight earlier this month of barristers in full wig and gown waving placards outside the Old Bailey during their not-strike over legal aid cuts. The sight was vaguely comical, yes, but the issue they were protesting against is anything but. Legal aid in criminal cases has been a cornerstone of the justice system for many years. It is axiomatic that anyone accused of a serious offence must have the opportunity to defend themselves. That opportunity, unfortunately, has to go hand-in-hand with the wherewithal. In a system within which expertise is rewarded proportionately there has to be some way of offering the necessary funding to those who need it but don’t have it. It’s true there is the risk of some criminals being financed by the state to defend the indefensible, but the risk of the opposite is considerably greater.
• That other area of law that has seen on-going controversy took another lurch recently with the announcement of a working group to set up medical panels to assess whiplash claims. The insurance industry has long disliked whiplash as it is a condition so common after low-impact collisions and almost impossible to dismiss.
The working group will probably comprise, according to a report in the Law Society Gazette, “…representatives of claimant and defendant lawyers and insurers, as well as bodies such as the Law Society and British Medical Association”. Nice to see there will actually be some doctors there. As for the panels themselves, one wag commenting on the report suggested the development could be “…a move towards one mega agency such as Capita being eventually given a contract by the MoJ to provide ALL the reports.” As if!
• The fallout from the row over the MoJ’s language services contract with Capita rumbles on, with the National Audit Office issuing a further progress report. The NAO reports that “progress has been made in implementing many of the recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in December 2012. However, there are a number of areas where the Ministry and its contractor Capita still need to improve.”
In particular, the report says Capita is still not meeting its 98% target. In addition, the report notes tardiness on the part of the MoJ in implementing some recommendations. It says: “A new assessment system for interpreters has not been implemented and an independent review of quality standards has not yet been performed.” Plus ça change.
Happy New Year!