This weekend I had the chance to meet up with a friend and colleague from the area I had used to work in. I immediately noticed he was sporting a new pair of glasses and commented on the same.
“£700 for three pairs!” he told me.
I gulped and said “You should have gone to…”
He smiled and said he had last year, and bought three pairs then and it had only cost him £400, but two had broken and he had lost the other one. So this year he went back to his usual optician, a small specialist in the town he lives in. He had last been there six years ago, and the glasses he had bought then had lasted until he needed to replace them last year when he went to the national chain of opticians. In the long run it was better value to pay that bit more and go to where what he bought was going to last. Plus, he said, they knew him, recognised him and offered him a better service overall. At the high street chain, he felt he was just a name on the list. Yes, they were cheaper, yes they were a bit quicker and the service was acceptable, but they were just that acceptable.
The point is, the comparison between the small firm and the high street national is what the government intend to do with your legal advice and your representation at court. The big difference is that you won’t have the choice of going to the specialist firm, they will no longer exist, in the interests of driving down price, and ensuring those firms that take on a contract will have enough work to make it worthwhile doing (and if you look at the figures there is not much chance of that).
Legal aid does cost the taxpayer money, legal aid may never be used by you or anyone you even know. The thought of you funding “criminals” to be represented and get away with it is, i know, never going to be attractive. Yet, it means that people who have committed an offence get the best possible advice, and this is very often, plead guilty. It means that those who have not committed an offence are given the best possible defence by people who believe in the need to test everything, who know how important it is to the person concerned. Legal aid is necessary because you never know when you might be in the wrong place in the wrong time. When you might make a mistake, when for a moment it all becomes too much, or when the police and the prosecution have very simply just got it wrong!
Under the proposed system the new suppliers, who may have never run a criminal practice before will be allocated clients, no choice in the matter, you become a name on a computer, they will never see you again, you cannot choose them in the future if you need them again. Where is the incentive to work hard, to work above and beyond. The government have said they need only give an acceptable level of service. Currently under the existing system, I and my colleagues rely on clients instructing me, my work is generated from some allocation from a rota system but primarily from clients choosing to instruct me. They choose me and my colleagues from other firms because they know us, we know them and we want them to come back to us and for them to tell their friends how we did, so we work and we offer a service that is beyond acceptable, that is what we would want if we were at the other side of the desk, a service that in the words of the man who is trying to dismantle it “one of the finest in the world”.
If you value quality, if you value choice, if you believe that you are entitled to the best defence available then please sign the petition so that the Government have to debate the issue and not just pass it through behind closed doors.