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Andy Burnham bids to battle Corbyn by being friend to legal aid lawyers

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Leadership election manifesto of former health secretary calls for a review of recent cuts

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Just when legal aid lawyers thought no-one in Westminster loved them, one of the Labour leadership candidates sends a big bouquet.

Andy Burnham is understood to have outlined several commitments in his as-yet unpublished manifesto that will potentially cheer striking criminal specialists and others.

According to a report yesterday in the blog LegalHackette’s Brief, Burnham is attempting to take on the Jeremy Corbyn challenge by promising to “reverse declining access to legal advice for the low paid”.

Since then, it has been reported on the blog Labour List that the former health secretary is set to commission a review of civil legal aid, which will be led by current Shadow Attorney General and former legal aid minister Lord Bach.

Also on board is likely to be Yvonne Fovargue MP, the former chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid and former chief executive of a local Citizens Advice Bureau.

According to the blog, Burnham, the MP for Leigh in Greater Manchester, will say in his manifesto:

… it is the hallmark of a civilised society that everyone can access justice, defend their rights and receive help in navigating the legal system, regardless of their income. So under my leadership, a Labour government will commission an urgent review of civil legal aid and scrap the unfair system of employment tribunal fees to make sure that everyone can access quality legal advice on social welfare law problems.

Last night the Huffington Post confirmed the chatter, running a piece by Lord Bach which argued that “Andy will bring justice to the many, not just the few” with a review of civil legal aid that will ensure that “Labour’s policies enable everyone to access quality legal advice on social welfare problems at the earliest possible opportunity”.

LegalHackette — which is written by legal affairs journalist Catherine Baksi, who is well-connected in the legal aid scene — points out that some might see Burnham’s motherhood and apple pie statement as a desperate bid to see off the unpredicted barnstorming performance of left-winger Corbyn in the leadership race.

Commentators might also find it ironic that Burnham — who entered parliament in 2001 — was part of a Labour government that did more than its fair share of slashing the legal aid budget itself.

11 Comments

Not Amused

In about 1999 something akin to a consensus was reached by the Labour party, the Conservative party and the Judiciary. This consensus said “Courts are bad and anything we can do to reduce the amount of people using them is an inherently good thing”.

And so the judges set about setting up barriers to court. Starting with the Woolf reforms, then pushing mediation (compulsory ASAP), universally front loaded procedural rules for all 3 divisions and finally ridiculous costs budgeting. Of course just as crucially, they stayed silent and said nothing to the media.

Meanwhile the politicians cut cut and cut again at legal aid. First went civil. Then the boa constriction of crime. Then bye bye family legal aid (unless its domestic abuse). In came the employment tribunal fees. Then out went Magna Carta and in came a £10,000 tax on anyone seeking civil justice.

The position is now so absurd that while growing numbers of our citizens are flat out denied use of the courts, at the same time, a po-faced Secretary of State can say “oh the courts are all empty, so it’s only rational to close a few”. Of course they are empty. You emptied them.

The problem I have had, as I have sat and watched this jolly little romp is that no politician, no judge (although a hat tip to Stephen Sedley and Igor Judge), let alone a whole political party, has said just how wrong this is. No one has explained to me why we suddenly decided that the best thing to serve the country was shiny, clean, empty court rooms.

If you want justice for victims and justice against corrupt police then you need criminal courts. If you want functioning or even happy family life in the UK then you need family courts. If you want a functioning economy where small businesses can start up knowing the debts owed to them can be enforced then you need functioning civil courts.

It is in no way fanciful to say that functioning courts made Britain. They made and make every other functioning country. A free and functioning court system is the cause of a functioning modern democracy. It is not an inconvenience. Nor need it be expensive. Simply strangling it out of existence with silly rules, cuts and taxes for using it is not on. In any event no one has ever articulated why doing so benefits my country.

The Courts of England and Wales are like the pavements in England and Wales – they are yours, you paid for them, you should be able to use them. You may very well prefer, as an individual, not to use them – but that does not mean that we start to rip them up.

If Burnham is genuine (a pretty big ‘if’) then I will vote for him.

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Anonymous

Hear, hear.

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Bot bamused

Blurb blurp blurp

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Anonymous

Don’t fall for it – they all say this when not in power.
Labour is equally to blame for the mess the CJS is in – in fact the rot set in with Blair.
It was Blair that started the entire ‘prioritise the NHS and sacrifice absolutely everything else’ philosophy.
So the result is squillions to the NHS – and bugger all for everybody else.

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Anonymous

There was precious little sign that Labour understood or cared about the impact of the legal services cuts in the run up to the election.

Burnham must be desperate if he’s trying to curry favour with us lawyers.

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Anonymous

Yeah, he’s also offering to sell his grandmother. (Although why anyone would want his grandmother is a mystery.)
Out of power these politicians will say ANYTHING – just look at Clegg.
Trust them at your peril – especially do not trust Gove – if in doubt about that particular silver tougned secondhand car salesman- just ask the teachers !!

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Anonymous

Thanks Andy.

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Anonymous

I’m still a Tory4Corbyn

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Anonymous

Just bet you are.
Tories loving this Labour implosion.
And in the background the voice from the dead commenting (Blair.)

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Anonymous

Fuck off Labour. We don’t trust you (or the Tories or Lib Dems either).

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Anonymous

The above post is due to be removed because it breaches Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

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