Last night our beloved Lord Chancellor appeared on the BBC Radio 4 panel show, Any Questions.
Some hoped that perhaps that might mean that a question could be asked of Mr Grayling relating to the proposals for legal aid.
The reason this is so important is that Mr Grayling refuses to meet anyone who is likely to challenge his ideas, and does not propose to implement his ideas in a manner which requires a Parliamentary debate. That means everything he says, and all the public misconceptions, are unchallenged.
Likewise in the press. Some newspapers have published stories which give our side of the debate, but others have allowed Mr Grayling an unchallenged platform to state his views. This is not balanced journalism because there is no exploration of the other side, or even an opposing quote.
I find it rather frightening that this can happen in our “democracy”, because this means that the executive can push through measures which severely damage access to justice for ordinary people who cannot afford to pay for their own representation, which in many cases limit the ability of the population to challenge the executive, and all of this happens on the back of a wave of populist misunderstanding and misinformation.
Only when the history books are written and say something like the following will the public sit up and take notice, but by then it will be too late:
“The ability of citizens to hold their government to account and to access justice in the courts increased steadily in the late twentieth century. However, by the early years of the 21st century the executive was reaffirming its hold on power. By 2014 successive governments had introduced measures to weaken the judiciary, the courts and the lawyers who served them. The public acquiesced in this process, believing it was in their interests, not appreciating that it was their rights which were being limited. A popular wave of hatred for legal aid lawyers supported the government’s aims, and it was not until a mass of cases were referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 2025 that the great miscarriage of justice scandal broke. New measures were introduced but did not take effect for decades due to the weakening of the legal professions…” [my pessimistic view of future history]
So, it is important that the questions are asked. And asked they were on Twitter last night, with question after question appearing under the #bbcaq hashtag. I’d estimate that about 80% of the tweets last night related in some way to Mr Grayling and his proposals.
Here’s a flavour:
#bbcaq Please ask Mr Grayling why he refuses to debate legal aid with Michael Turner QC of the Criminal Bar Association
#bbcaq Please ask Mr Grayling how he is upholding the British tradition of a fair and equal trial by introducing justice on the cheap.
#bbcaq Please ask Mr Grayling why he is going to destroy 1500 self-made small businesses in order to allow big business into justice system.
#bbcaq Please ask Mr Grayling why MOJ refuses to state how many people will be made redundant as result of legal aid changes (c.15,000?)
#bbcaq Please ask Mr Grayling why he thinks criminal defence for ppl who can’t afford to pay should never rise above the “acceptable” level.
#bbcaq Please ask Mr Grayling where the judiciary will come from once he has destroyed the criminal bar and solicitor professions.
#bbcaq Please ask Mr Grayling whether he has actually considered any of the many questions being asked by lawyers, or is justice irrelevant.
#bbcaq Pls ask Mr Grayling whether it is consistent w dignity of his office to repeatedly misrepresent lawyers’ earnings for political ends
#bbcaq Please ask Mr Grayling why he thinks it acceptable to take such drastic action ref justice system without a debate in Parliament.
#bbcaq Pls ask Mr Grayling if he was wrongly accused of expenses fraud if he’d want his lawyer to be high quality or just acceptable?
#bbcaq Should Mr Grayling resign his position as Lord Chancellor given his disdain for hardworking lawyers of both professions?
Were any of those questions asked?
We need to make sure these issues are aired properly before it is too late.
Since I wrote the above post there have been a couple of other media events, but they don’t change the overall picture above.
The first was the appearance by barrister and ex-MP Jerry Hayes on Question Time. Again the BBC was deluged with questions, and again nothing was raised. Mr Hayes managed, briefly, to get a reference to the changes in, but as it was not the question being asked nothing went any further forward.
The second event was last Sunday on the BBC’s Politics Show. Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association. Michael Turner QC, travelled to Birmingham from London for an interview. We all hoped this would be a proper expose given national coverage. We were therefore horrified when it turned out this was local coverage only, and Mr Turner, who had spent about an hour being interviewed, was broadcast for only a few seconds.
It seems abundantly clear that this important issue is simply not going to be aired on the BBC, and the country will sleepwalk into the loss of a system which is admired the World over, apart from in our own country.