5th November 2012

There has been a great deal in the news recently about the failings at a high level among the core institutions of our nation. The Hillsborough disaster, the Jimmy Savile investigation, mis-selling of insurance. Equally seldom a day goes by without some handwringing article in the media regarding child abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence.

Yet the ability of people to investigate the workings of the state, to obtain justice, to gain protection from the state when they are being abused in one form or another is being reduced.

As a business we pay a considerable amount of money each year to outside assessment bodies to come in and examine our work. We have successfully gained Lexcel and Investor in People accreditations, and on a regular basis we visited by assessors who scrutinise our work in great detail and make recommendations for development and improvement. To me this seems like money well spent. It stops us from becoming complacent, it challenges us to improve, and it highlights areas where we may be failing.

It occurs to me that firms like ourselves who specialise in legal aid play the same role with regard to government and other state agencies. We are there to ensure fair play, to ensure that justice is even handed and to feedback to the state and other bodies when their performance falls below an acceptable standard. This is essential in a truly democratic and advanced society, and it angers me that the government does not want to invest in this extremely valuable resource.

In fact I gain the impression that they would rather we went away and stopped bothering them. So often one gains the impression that calling state agencies to account, whether it be by ensuring that people with a disability receive their full entitlements to allow them to live a full life, by challenging the right of the state to remove a child for life from its birth family, by gaining compensation for those who have been injured unnecessarily at work, or by holding the police to account when they cross the boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour, this is not welcomed and is not seen as a part of the checks and balances essential to a good and healthy society.

I am reminded of those people who complain bitterly about paying taxes but expect the full panoply of services to be available when they require them.

As it becomes increasingly difficult to play the role of one of the checks and balances in our society, as Legal Aid withers on the vine, it may only be when it ceases to exist as a viable force for good that those responsible realise what they have lost.