I’m in two minds about Simon Power’s latest justice reforms.
A radical review of the welfare system for lawyers that is legal aid is long overdue. Regular readers of this blog would know that I’ve long been a fan of removing lawyers from sucking off the state’s tit, and replacing legal aid welfare payments with a public defenders’ office. There’s no species more venal than lawyers making up their bills (un less of course it’s politicians making up their expense claims).
In fact way back in 2005 I wrote that with some very few noticeable exceptions, the more I see of lawyers and their venality, the more I find myself in favour of nationalising the lot of them. When you consider the justice of removing their taxpaid path to riches, you might consider the words of H.L. Mencken:
All the extravagance and incompetence of our present Government is due, in the main, to lawyers, and, in part at least, to good ones. They are responsible for nine-tenths of the useless and vicious laws that now clutter the statute-books, and for all the evils that go with the vain attempt to enforce them. Every Federal judge is a lawyer. So are most Congressmen. Every invasion of the plain rights of the citizens has a lawyer behind it. If all lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah jong factory, we'd be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost a half.Ain’t that the truth. Simon Power should send the country’s lawyers a copy of Mencken’s words on a piece of stiff parchment, with the advice that if they disagree with being removed from the state tit that they fold it until it's all sharp corners, and then insert it where the sun doesn't shine.
So legal aid can go. I’m quite comfortable with the concept of the public defenders’ office instead. But I’m not so happy to see the right to a jury trial so peremptorily dismissed. The right of a person to choose to be tried by a jury of their peers is just one valuable, time-honoured legal protection against innocent people being rail-roaded into prison.
It is certainly true that the wheels of NZ justice spin slowly – and it’s true too that justice delayed is justice denied. But the cure for this is not to remove legal protections to make it easier to lock people up – they key fix would be to remove so many of the ridiculous laws on our books that clog the justice system up. Restrict law only to those that protect individual rights, you can take a chain saw to the country’s statutes.
Back in the 1800s lawyers like Abraham Lincoln could ride around on horseback from trial to trial with only three legal books in his saddlebag, one of those being a copy of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England, the bible of English-speaking law for more than a century. Right now that lawyer on horseback would have to be a accompanied by a whole wagon train of toadies towing a whole caravan of legal books, if they were to carry with them all the laws that now assail our country.
Start hacking back the intrusions of excessive law and regulation, and you’ll find that courts will unclog themselves very quickly.