One law for the rich…

It’s funny how sometimes a pattern emerges from a whole series of different stories and events that in many respects would appear to be unrelated. That’s been the case for me this past week.

It started with news coverage of the decision of the Financial Conduct Authority to order the end of an enquiry into UK banking culture that had originally been proposed as one of a number of measures to determine whether the lessons for the world financial crisis had been learned. Apparently, the FCA thinks they have, and that we should all stop giving the bankers such a hard time (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/31/banking-culture-review-john-mcdonnell-urges-george-osborne). Others are less sure, and see the dead hand of the Chancellor behind the move which will go some way to appeasing the likes of HSBC who had been threatening to pull out of London and take their HQ elsewhere.

This was followed by the confirmation from the Crown Prosecution Service that the posthumous ‘trial of the facts’ to examine allegations of historic child sexual abuse involving former MP Lord Janner, had been shelved (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35304528). This on the same day that it emerged that an establishment cover-up in the 1990s may have prevented a more detailed inquiry at a time when Janner was well enough to have been properly questioned in relation to complaints against him (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/19/establishment-stopped-me-exposing-greville-janner-25-years-ago).

At the same time, and without any public fanfare or opinion pieces in the national newspapers, a family in South Wales is facing the double heartache of fighting health and social services to secure appropriate treatment and care for their daughter who is suffering constant fits and debilitating paralysis, whilst at the same time needing to find a new home following the decision of their landlord to sell their rented property out from underneath them.

There is little doubt that lawyers have been working tirelessly and at great expense to lobby both the FCA and the CPS that any further enquiry into the actions of their respective clients would not be in anyone’s best interests. They’ve done a good job and doubtless been paid handsomely for their expert services. I don’t begrudge them a penny.

Unfortunately, the same access to legal support is not available to the family fighting to make public services discharge their health and care duties, nor to support them in securing suitable alternative rental accommodation. Both parents have jobs and work hard to support their kids, but their disposable income after living costs won’t stretch to the fees of a housing or community care lawyer.

What seems like a lifetime ago now, I worked for the Legal Services Commission at a time when its prime concern was securing access to justice for those who desperately needed it, but lacked the means to pay for it in full or at all. Unfortunately, since then, successive governments of all colours have seen legal aid as a cost rather than an investment, and have sought to reduce both the scope of things covered by the scheme, and the rates of pay of those lawyers foolish enough to continue to operate it.

The theme that runs through all this, of course, is the old adage that there’s one law for the rich (and powerful) and one for the rest of us. It’s this that is highlighted so perfectly in this Tom Robinson song for the Justice Alliance.

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