Legal aid is lawyer aid. It’s a legitimate use of govt’s money to pay for a legal system, but nowhere does that mean it’s legitimate to make people independently wealthy on govt money.
As a poor much put-upon taxpayer, there’s something distasteful about watching a courtroom lawyer running run a defence for a scumbag based on narcissistic whining and flatulent self-delusion (Ms Judith Ablett-Kerr defending Sophie Elliot’s murderer), or watching Michael Reed run a $2.6 milion defence-by-media on behalf of David Bain – watching all that courtroom legerdemain and knowing that I’m picking up the tab for the whole legal charade. (Not to mention Deborah Manning's McLeod & Associates who pulled down $2 million from us taxpayers a few years ago to plead for Ahmed Zaoui. Or Joe Karam, who we all applauded for putting his bankroll where his support for David Bain was, only to discover that it was in fact we taxpayers who had been bankrolling Mr Karam.)
This is not legal aid so much as a legal trough, and as inner-city restaurant owners know those be-wigged snouts have very rich tastes – and they know how to inflate a bill. There’s no species more venal than lawyers making up their bills (un less of course it’s politicians making up their expense claims).
Just as the injustice of prohibition keeps gangsters rich, so too does the iniquity of the legal aid system keep lawyers farting through silk.
The just-announced 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, replacing legal aid welfare payments with a public defenders’ office.
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 considering 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 – and consider themselves lucky the country’s mah jong factories are oversupplied.
So legal aid can go. I’m quite comfortable with the concept of the public defenders’ office instead as a way to defend those who can’t afford their own counsel, or who can’t attract the attention of private organisations like the American Institute for Justice – funded by donations to fight for individual rights whenever they’re menaced. (If only New Zealand had such a place, or lawyers with such an interest.)
Frankly, once you start ‘nationalising’ a few lawyers and take away their golden spigot we’ll soon see lawyers fees coming down. And start hacking back the intrusions of excessive and non-objective law and regulation that feed the parasites, and you’ll find that we won’t need so many of the elegant bastards anyway.
UPDATE: I liked this comment from Bez:
“Law is one of the few legitimate purposes and activities of the state. The question however is where to draw the box inside of which that activity must be contained. Because we don't have that clear there's just too much 'wetlands' in which leeches prosper.”