Where’s the benefit in striving to have a new boss, when he’s actually the old boss, and mostly just as bad if not much worse than the new old boss he would be replacing?
Put differently, what is the point of British people seeking independence from the EU, when putting British politicians back in charge to govern us from Westminster results in outcomes that are every bit as bad, if not worse, than what is forced on us by the crowd in Brussels?
Today’s earlier blog post about the squeeze on legal aid forcing some law firms to close down or restructure, focused on the consequences of long term abuse of a system designed to provide protections under the law for this country’s citizens and visitors. The passing reference to cuts to the legal aid budget having ramifications for the ability of less well off people to have access to justice, really didn’t do justice to the magnitude of the changes being made by the coalition.
So this follow up seeks to put things into greater context.
What the cuts to the legal aid budget will result in was made clear in 2011. As part of the cost saving plan, the UK informed the EU that it would not opt-in to the proposal for a Directive on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest. The reason was clear. Clause 12 of what was then the Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, contained provisions that restrict access to legal advice for criminal suspects, with cost saving one of the reasons given for it.
Ostensibly the provision was to pave the way for means testing of defendants to determine if they should get legal aid, as a step change on the route to removing the automatic right of those arrested and in police custody to have access to a lawyer at the police station. A director of legal aid would decide which detainees should get legal aid in the ‘interest of justice’ without any right to appeal – leaving the way open for the state to persecute individuals who, if of limited means, would be denied access to counsel.
Note the ‘interest of justice’ element of the clause. It suggests this is not merely a financial consideration, but the state giving itself the ability to determine whether it’s in justice’s interest to have a defendant assisted by a lawyer if he can’t afford one. It’s a wide open swinging door to abuse and miscarriage of justice.
By any measure, using the cost savings yardstick, it would be wrong to equate the entitlement to legal counsel upon arrest with the kind of abuses of legal aid that have seen millionaires defended at public cost. But that was the excuse being used to push through a pernicious and worrying bill.
Now fast forward to two weeks ago in Brussels. There we find the European Parliament plenary adopting a proposal from the European Commission to make a new law, to guarantee the rights of all citizens to be advised by a lawyer when facing criminal proceedings. This is what the UK opted out of.
So what we see are protections being afforded to EU citizens that are not available to UK citizens. Being in a signatory EU member state, ironically, would ensure the interests of defendants are protected far more than here in the UK.
This goes back to a long standing question. Why bother pushing for independence when that still leaves us at the mercy of politicians and civil servants who are every bit as bad, if not worse, than those we seek to escape from in Brussels? Out of the frying pan and into the fire. It’s all well and good arguing for independence, but it is ultimately meaningless unless the UK becomes democratic. Truly democratic.
That does not mean merely voting every 4-5 years then having no influence or control over the people we send to Parliament. It means the people holding the power, and politicians not being able to impose on us restrictions and laws, like the eroding right to legal counsel paid for by the taxpayer, without our consent.
This is brings us to the intersection of independence and democracy, where there is a crossroads between the campaign to leave the EU and the embryonic campaign to realise the Six Demands of the Harrogate Agenda.
This post is just food for thought, and a reminder of the complexity that faces us as we seek to define the future of this country and our people. Things aren’t always as black and white as they seem. Getting out of the EU isn’t the end in itself, only the means to enable us to formulate the end for ourselves in the future.
(With more time I would probably do a better job of connecting the dots, with far better writing than the jumble above which was banged out in a few minutes of downtime. So this post may be revised slightly over the next day or so, to complete thoughts, add emphasis or generally improve it.)