Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Legal aid or legal trough? [updated]

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.”


  1. PC said...
    Frankly, once you start ‘nationalising’ a few lawyers and take away their golden spigot we’ll soon see lawyers fees coming down.

    I'll also add that we'll soon see the number of students applying to study criminal law dropped, I guess. They might line up to apply for places in engineering and science or perhaps even architecture.

  2. Never thought you'd actually want to NATIONALIZE anything. There must be some past hurt there, to go off your philosophy on this matter.
    I do agree in principle, though, there's way to much lawyers in everything, but that may be just because there's too much law in everything. If we start reducing the second, the first will come down by itself. Also, the entire legal system is so terribly broken and outdated, that you can't blame anybody for anything until you go back to first principles and fix the thing. It's not hard really, but it'll take balls to do it, much more cajones than there are currently present, that's for sure.
    Nice link to the IJ site, agree that something like that would be useful, let's get it started.

  3. BEZ: "Never thought you'd actually want to NATIONALIZE anything."

    Well, there's probably an element of shock value in saying that, but law (objective law) really is the legitimate role the state, don't you agree?

    FF: That's the thing, isn't it: Its almost heart-breaking seeing so many otherwise intelligent people lining up to learn about legal legerdemain instead of genuine productive careers. One half to write stupid laws and the other half to work out how to charge clients to get round them, sucking like leeches the whole time.

  4. I have a better idea.. let's do away with Courts and Lawyers altogether!

    Instead of the silliness of 'due process' or 'innocent until proven guilty' ..["innocent?, yeah right!"].. we can just leave it to Radio Live callers to decide these matters.

    We can call it the "Talkback Committee" whereby 'Bill from Westport' (retired coalminer and regular at the local pub), and Yvonne from Henderson (housewife extraordinaire who unhesitatingly dishes out a good walloping when necessary) shall be members of the committee, they will look someone up and down and pronounce him guilty.

    By doing things this way we can save the taxpayer literally BILLIONS over the next five years, and New Zealand is, afterall, a democracy and democracy means Bill and Yvonne are more than qualified to simply take a vote on important matters.

    Once Bill and Yvonne have done what is expected of them *ahem* we can then leave it to Dave, Trevor and that panelbeater from Ota-hoo Steve to rip the guilty apart limb from limb saving even more taxpayer dollars.

    Problem solved!

    No more legal aid bills, no more "innocent" [*yeah, right!*] verdicts, no more stuffy Judges dishing out community service to shoplifters instead of "life means life - so there!" sentences...

    Thus are all men created equal...

  5. I agree that law is one of the few legitimate purposes and activities of the state. As always, the question 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. There's more species than just lawyers though. Combine power and authority with a lack of responsibility and liability and an extensive flora and fauna of various suckulents will inevitably appear.

  6. It’s a legitimate use of govt’s money to pay for a legal system,

    no. It' not. many many criminal systems - such as singapore - with whom we compete directly, and China, have no legal aid scheme and would never think of introducing stuff. Hey, even the French, with a much more direct inquisitorial system, have neither legal aid nor dedicated lawyers for criminals.

    It's about time we realised that criminals and gang members and beneficiaries and the rest are simply not part of society and should be treated as such.
    Productive members of society can afford lawyers for appeals - for the rest, getting rid of the lawyers will save not only the direct costs of their fees, but the must larger indirect costs incurred by courts, police, investigations, trials, etc.

  7. Sigh, why do I attract anonymous commenters who can't even read what they quote.

    Spot the difference:

    "It’s a legitimate use of govt’s money to pay for a legal system.""

    "No, it's not. Many many criminal systems . . . have no legal aid scheme."

  8. Elijah says:
    "Instead of the silliness of 'due process' or 'innocent until proven guilty' ."

    I assume you are being sarcastic. So I'd wager you've not had the misfortune to come to the attention of our tax authorities.


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