This column occasionally quotes Yes Minister, with the excuse that the now antique sitcom is more educational than any politics degree. In The Writing on the Wall, mandarin perm sec Sir Humphrey Appleby advises Jim Hacker of one crackpot policy: ‘Minister, if you are going to do this damn silly thing, don’t do it in this damn silly way.’
He might have been talking about Transforming Legal Aid, following a week that saw indignation about this assault on the rule of law turn to rage at the justice secretary’s blithe intransigence. Expletives were not deleted at last Tuesday’s rowdy demonstration in front of the Ministry of Justice.
The legal profession is on the banks of a Rubicon in its relationship with government. If it buckles in the face of a policy that seeks to remove the right of criminal defendants to choose their own lawyer, fundamental questions arise about the nature of our democracy.
Five years ago, the Guardian’s economics editor Larry Elliott co-wrote a book about the financial crisis, highlighting the dangers of undermining an independent professional class which has indispensable value both as a source of advice, and as a bulwark against the power of corporates and the state.
How ironic that the first non-lawyer lord chancellor for centuries appears intent on knocking down a supporting pillar of our constitution.