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September 27, 2011 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

 

Bill Esterson

 

Labour’s conference is in Liverpool. The conference is the biggest political conference in Western Europe and having up to 20,000 people visiting Liverpool is good news for the economy of Merseyside. It is also a boost for the Labour Party in Merseyside to have our own conference here and it means that many of our members in Sefton can go to the conference without having to pay for hotels. As the bus stops outside my front door in Maghull, it is certainly very convenient for me.

We will hear this week about the challenge of the global financial crisis, the threat of debt default by Greece and Italy and the increase in borrowing by our government because it has cut too fast. The challenge for Labour as the opposition is that it cannot predict what the economy will be like in 2015 when the next election will be held so it cannot say exactly what it would do. But we can say that the speed of the cuts mean that many people are losing and that only by growing the economy can the private sector expand and create the jobs needed to replace the jobs being cut in the public sector.

A cut in VAT now would help businesses just like it did a few years ago under the last Labour government, so that is one measure that Labour would take if it was in power now. But we must hope that the government reconsiders its approach before it damages the economy any further and reverses the cuts until the economy is strong enough for new jobs to be created.

The Liverpool Law Society invited me to meet them along with a number of my colleagues. The Law Society represents solicitors and is worried that the government’s new legislation has been rushed through. One issue which was raised was the government plan to deny legal aid to most people. The family courts deal with disputes between parents over who should have custody of their children. Many people rely on legal advice and apply for legal aid to help them. Without the legal aid, they will have to represent themselves. This sounds fine in practice. It sounds like it will save lots of money. In reality, people who represent themselves don’t understand the legal system and need help from the courts in completing forms and in what to do in court. This means that the courts are likely to become jammed up with cases. It also means that children will lose out and will be denied the chance to see one of their parents often for months or even years. As for the promised costs savings, these are unlikely to materialise. The courts will end up doing the work currently done by the solicitors so will have to employ more staff to cope and hire more judges, which is not a cheap option.

The government wants people to use mediation but mediation only works if both parents want to work things out. Sadly in many disagreements, people will not reach agreement so the courts have to make a decision instead. There have been good mediation services for 20 years so it is unlikely that there is scope for more people to benefit from mediation. It's not just in the family courts that this cancellation of legal aid will cause problems either. In criminal cases, people may have to represent themselves which will cause big delays and a increase the chances of miscarriages of justice.

The government says it wants to save money, but the biggest beneficiaries are likely to be the insurance companies as less will be paid out for medical negligence or other areas where the courts award compensation. Not because there are fewer people who should receive compensation but because we will have  a court system which is jammed up with cases and which will grind to a halt. Maybe we should look at the links between ministers and the insurance companies.

The government did not consult and they did not work out how much the changes to legal aid would save overall. As with so much else, the government is going too far and too fast.

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