A hard case

Liz Davies looks at initiatives to rescue legal aid
December 2010

Legal aid gets a bad press from politicians and the right-wing media. But the £350 million proposed cut from the legal aid budget of £2.1 billion isn’t going to hit ‘fat cat’ lawyers. It’s the public who will suffer as access to free advice and representation on housing, family, immigration and asylum cases is slashed.

As far as public services go, traditionally it’s hard to convince the public to fight for legal aid. Given that only 29 per cent of the population are entitled to receive such aid if they have a legal problem, the public might wonder why they should campaign for a service that most of them anyway can’t use.

Legal aid is paid to lawyers in private practice, a consequence of the 1945 Labour government failing to bite the bullet and establish a National Legal Service. Lawyers tend to get a bad press, and there are a few top criminal barristers who earn substantial amounts. However, legal aid lawyers aren’t fat cats. The average salary of a legal aid lawyer in 2009 was £25,000.

A further difficulty in gathering public support for legal aid is that it pays for hard cases, many of which feel far removed from the everyday lives of taxpayers. If you read the Daily Mail, the only people who receive legal aid are asylum seekers, prisoners or foreigners. But they have rights, as does anyone facing criminal charges, having to deal with a difficult divorce or fighting to keep a home from being repossessed.

Moreover, no one is entitled to receive civil legal aid for cases without merit. There isn’t a merits test for criminal legal aid – and that’s entirely right. When someone’s liberty is at stake, it’s for magistrates or a jury to decide if he or she is guilty, not anonymous legal aid officials deciding whether he or she should get legal representation.

Despite the bad press it gets, though, campaigns to save legal aid are beginning to gain wider public support, broadening out beyond the legal profession. That’s because legal aid is a bit like the NHS – nobody wants to have to use it, but we know that if we are made redundant, can’t afford our rent or mortgage, or have a difficult family break-up, we need legally-aided advice and representation. We’re glad it’s there.

Save Legal Aid (www.savelegalaid.org) is supported by organisations representing legal aid practitioners. Together with Unite and Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, it has set up Justice for All to defence existing legal aid and advice services. A launch is planned for early December 2010.

The Haldane Society (www.haldane.org), together with Young Legal Aid Lawyers (www.younglegalaidlawyers.org), is holding an inquiry into the case for legal aid on 2 February 2011. The event will contain testimony from people who have benefited from legal aid, as well as those who were refused legal aid and couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Campaigns to defend and extend legal aid should be integral parts of campaigns to defend public services. If our campaign doesn’t reach beyond the legal profession, we won’t succeed. We need trade unions, anti-cuts groups, community and voluntary groups to be campaigning as vigorously against legal aid cuts as they do for all the other public services.

Liz Davies is chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and a barrister specialising in housing and homelessness law. She writes here in a personal capacity

Peter Lappin 10 April 2013, 20.29

I left a comment on here a couple of months ago and you have removed it. Why?
I know it made a mockery of Ms Davies claim about the fat cat lawyers and their fees and especially the fees she charges for handling Legal Aid work that she defends so vigorously as a service needed by the people who can’t afford professional help, she doesn’t want it changed and you also don’t want anybody else’s views on her statements especially if it contradicts her views.
The reason people cant afford legal help is because of very, very greedy people like Ms Liz Davies Barrister and her colleagues in the profession who live on the backs off other peoples misery and whose sole aim is to make as much money out of a case as they can.
I’m not surprised she doesn’t want any changes made to the Legal Aid system as I suspect most of her work comes from legal aid clients as she specialises in helping the homeless who are people who qualify for legal aid.
“Liz specialises in all aspects of housing law, with a particular expertise in homelessness and allocation of social housing. She also practises in areas of community care and Children Act cases, particularly where accommodation might be an issue. Liz is committed to acting for the homeless, and for tenants and other occupiers, and has a tenacious and practical approach to conducting her cases.

I was unfortunate enough to be landed with one of her bills that she put in on 30/07/2012 because I had the audacity to ask for my property back so I could sell it and get out of debt before ‘I’ ended up homeless.
Her bill was for £4,761.60 which was part of a total of £8,232.32 I was ordered to pay for my tenants appeal against eviction.
Ms Liz Davies ‘part day’ in Romford County Court came to £2,760 and 3 hours of that were for travelling? Our only income is my wife’s wages as a school dinner lady and she earns exactly £522.80 per month which comes to £4,849.39 gross per year. My wife’s years wages would only cover Ms Liz Davies travelling expenses to Romford County Court about three maybe four times …. what planet is she living on ? This is why people can’t afford to pay for ‘professional’ help because of greedy people like her.
I use the word professional very loosely because they specialise in charging as much money as they can so they can grow fat on the greedy money they charge to help poor defenceless people who are at the mercy of these mercenaries and unfortunately the taxpayer usually picks up the bill.
My wife also has to pay out over £25 per week travelling expenses from Romford to Tower Hamlets to get to work (a lot less than Ms Liz Davies Barrister charges) so her clear monthly wage would be less than £422.80, what would Ms Liz Davies do for that amount of money? very little if anything I would imagine because she wouldn’t be able to get to work on that amount of money would she.

I have more costs to come for the last case on the 22nd January 2013 (which Ms Davies fought to make sure I paid this also) I have no idea what it will come to but I imagine it will be more than the last one which was £8,232.32 because not only will Ms Liz Davies have her greedy bill in, there was also a solicitor with her for this eviction hearing in Romford County Court who said nothing and did nothing except go outside and smoke during the breaks, I suppose this greedy man will want to be well paid as well ?

Remember this is only a hearing for eviction against a woman who hasn’t paid her rent since August 2011, refuses to sign the forms from the Housing benefit people so we don’t even get that, takes lodgers into the house and employs housekeepers and nanny’s to help her run the house even though she is on benefits. Tax payers money are making people like Ms Liz Davies Barrister rich to keep people like this in homes they don’t deserve to be in while people like me pay for it all.

I am not entitled to benefits or legal aid even though I have worked hard all my life and have never claimed a penny in social security in my life all because I have ‘assets’ which is the house we are trying to get back from somebody who wont pay any rent and is destroying our house. I cant afford legal representation it starts at £190 an hour plus VAT and that’s the cheapest I’ve found!

Ms Liz Davies Barrister is well aware of our situation, we have no income, we’re in a lot of financial trouble because of the tenant who we keep paying a mortgage on the house so she and her friends can live there for free, she knows I was diagnosed with Lung Cancer and cant work. Yet she does everything she can to make sure we pay the costs to add to our misery. I walked out of court on the 22nd January in disgust but my wife seen Ms Liz Davies barrister raise her hands in glee like a stupid pathetic little girl because she won the case and we got landed with the costs ….. nasty woman.

Me and my equally innocent wife are victims of this woman’s immoral fees and the sooner it’s stopped the better, at the very least people like her should be barred from handling tax payer funded cases.

Stop acting like a goody, goody Liz Davies Barrister your not in it to help the poor and the unfortunate your in it for yourself. You’re a fat cat Barrister.
Peter Lappin

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