As a practising barrister with no party-political affiliation, I have, like all lawyers, had to think long and hard recently about what our reaction should be to the savage cuts to legal aid imposed by ministers who have very adequate incomes, and in some cases substantial private wealth.
I am reminded of a long-dead solicitor, Leslie Slade, who practised alone in the small country town of Newent in Gloucestershire.
He told me that during the 1920s depression, he and other solicitors at Ross-on-Wye Magistrates’ Court and elsewhere were ready to – and did – defend anyone who could rustle up a few pounds (at most £3).
The present situation mirrors that described by Slade, who survived in practice and lived to tell the tale until about 1970.
Reflecting on this, I am converted to the view as counsel that, if asked to accept a brief fee of £200 instead of a more usual £500 for a case to be heard within 25 miles of chambers, we should, wherever possible, accept the lower fee on receipt of a fully prepared brief (and subject to seeing a copy of the legal aid offer).
The alternative is to allow some poor devil to face the court unrepresented.
The idea of having to bow the knee to government unfairness goes against the grain, but in the interests of justice to lay clients it is the only solution.
Stanley Best, Barnstaple Chambers Winkleigh, Devon