The first thing we do, let\’s kill all lawyers\”, says a Jack Cade rebel in Shakespeare\’s Henry VI, Part 2. It always gets a laugh and a whoop or two. Kenneth Clarke, secretary of state for justice, knows his audience too: few hearts bleed at cutting lawyers\’ fees. Naturally he blurs the difference between fat cat barristers earning fortunes from legal aid in high-profile criminal cases, whose fees he leaves untouched – and the work of social conscience lawyers, whose fees he is abolishing completely. Public interest lawyers earn very little in law centres and Citizens Advice bureaus, helping people lost in the legal wilderness of welfare, tenancies or working rights. As a result, law centres and CABs will close.
I happen to think that law centres and CABs are a very good thing. But I can still see a clear difference between the two sorts of support for access to the law.
In the one case the State is collating its monstrous power to deprive you of your freedom and liberty. In the other help is required in navigating the monstrous bureaucracy of the Big State. As I say, I can see that the latter is both just and desirable: but it really just isn\’t the same as the former and I\’m not at all surprised, indeed welcome, that the distinction is being made.
It is more important that those accused be able to defend themselves than that those mystified be informed.