The Tories are creating a Mid Staffs of the criminal justice system

by Dan McCurry

The government’s reputation for incompetence shows no signs of abating, as they mimic the management ethos of Mid Staffs hospital and apply it to the criminal defence service.

These are government proposals which are to be applied to solicitors’ firms providing advice in police stations and courts. They propose the removal of choice of solicitor from the service user, in order to create a greater economy of scale and drive down costs. But, by doing so they will remove the competition which drives up standards and establish a local monopoly, rarely the most effective model to promote efficiency.

Consider this scenario. Your son has been arrested after his friend got into a fight. Your son was there when the fight happened, but wasn’t a part of it. However, he then prefers to say nothing to the police, because he doesn’t want to get his mates in trouble. The police interview will be much quicker if the lad makes no comment. The solicitor advises him to speak, but he doesn’t push the issue when the lad objects. As a result, your son refuses to answer police questions and this leads to a £10k trial where the young man is acquitted after he gives his account at court.

In the above scenario, the legal adviser gets paid regardless and cannot be criticised, on paper. He or she has also generated a fee from a trial. Your son’s A level results are effected by the several months of stress and distraction. You and your son cannot influence whether this solicitor gets more work or not, since there is no longer any personal recommendation. There is no competition.

The other scenario is that the solicitor does his or her job properly by explaining the gravity of the situation and encouraging the young man to account for himself. The account is persuasive and the police drop the matter then and there. The parents appreciate the solicitor and recommend him to a neighbour.

The NHS has little or no competition. Under New Labour, Tony Blair proposed choice, to drive up standards and drive down costs, but Gordon Brown objected, arguing that people want to go to their local hospital for their operation, not some distant place. In Mid Staffs a culture emerged where it was normal for patients to die. As result, when a whole bunch died, no one thought to raise the alarm. If there had been a choice of hospitals, then patients would have deserted a place like Mid Staffs for one with better results. But, there wasn’t so patients knew no better. There was no regulation by the market because there was just the local monopoly.

For solicitors, competition keeps standards high. As a process of regulation, it is simple, effective and already built into the system. Removing personal choice for users will cause systemic damage by destroying the market’s regulation of solicitors’ standards.

This government might talk about markets and efficiency, but as these proposals demonstrate, when it comes to implementing practical policy, they really haven’t got a clue.

Dan McCurry is a Labour activist who blogs here

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6 Responses to “The Tories are creating a Mid Staffs of the criminal justice system”

  1. Ex-Labour says:

    ” The government’s reputation for incompetence shows no signs of abating”. Did you not listen to Ed “No Martha you dont understand” Miliband ? Anyway best stick to the point.

    This is about changes to legal aid. Like most publically funded initiatives it has morphed into something quite different from the initial intention. I think the military refer to it as “mission creep”. Currently its costing the tax payer over £2 Billion per year and rising, which is one of the worlds most expensive systems. So the government need to do something.

    Legal aid helps the poor and down-trodden get justice right ? Well not exactly, maybe sometimes. The legal aid budget is being used on such things as divorce hearings or neighbours suing each other over that large Conifer and we’ve even seen millionaires take advantage when suing each other. All at the taxpayers expense and of course the legal aid gravy train lining solicitors pockets. Most of the civil cases will not be eligible for aid, but there will be execptions such as asylum, immigration, domestic violence, debt cases etc etc.

    The government has said enough is enough and wants reform and reform will of course limit solicitors fees – hence the outcry from M’learned friends. The accused will of course still get legal representation but a solictor will be appointed for them so they can no longer choose one of their own which may of course be much more expensive to the system. Solicitors will have to tender a fixed price service as opposed to charging for every little thing they do.

    Is this a bad thing ? I think not.

  2. Danny says:

    “The other scenario is that the solicitor does his or her job properly by explaining the gravity of the situation and encouraging the young man to account for himself.”

    No criminal defence lawyer does this. It is an imaginary scenario. They judge themselves on “getting people off” or where the evidence is particularly damning, getting the lowest sentence possible for their client.

    Imagine if in the scenario you painted, someone in the fight was killed. What actually happens in reality is they select the best criminal defence lawyer in the local area, who advises their client to sit in the interview room and repeat the words “no comment” until such time when the law requires the police to release them. Then you have a scenario where the loved ones of the unfortunate victim are left to wonder just how their son, brother, friend, etc was killed, adding a lack of closure to the utter despair they must face.

    I am not saying that what the Tories are proposing is wrong. But the status quo is utterly appalling and we have a criminal justice system weighted so heavily in favour of criminals and against the victims of crime that it would take some pretty draconian reforms to make it worse.

    To say that these reforms will decrease the likelihood of pre-trial cooperation with the investigating constabulary is simply not true.

  3. McCurry says:

    Ex Labour, you really don’t bother to read these articles, do you?

    Danny, your argument is that we should abolish solicitors and barristers. That is a separate issue to my article. The govt propose to keep lawyers but to change the system so as to abolish the self-regulation of the market. I am arguing that this is foolish.

  4. Rational Plan says:

    Well done on creating the most crass analogy ever.

    Potentially thousands of deaths swept under the carpet, because it’s the ‘NHS’ and therefore a sacred cow. Something no one will even lose their bonuses over, instead of mass arrests for manslaughter.

    compared to changes to the amount lawyers are paid. weak.

  5. Ex-labour says:


    I was trying to explain to others what your over emotional mumblings were actually referring to and what and why the government are trying to do to reign back the escalating costs.

    The current system is being abused by litigants and lawyers alike where they charge for every little task they do. Whilst a choice and market led standards are always preferable the current situation is untenable in the longer term.

    I was surprised by your views on the market philosophy. I thought Labour were for market intervention and control – as they seem to be on every other issue. No doubt you will receive a black mark from Ed for being off message….”but no Dan you don’t understand”.

  6. bob says:

    Dan: your analogy is poor in fact disgusting, conflating the deaths nay slaughter by incompetence at North Staffs and the legal system. Those in charge at the hospital and those above them were responsible including their POLITICAL masters. I cite, Nicholson and his cohort of managers and political people like Burnham Hewitt Reid et al ultimately responsible for these deaths.

    RP: agree with you, the legal aid system should be presented a total amount per case not per action within a case ie attending interviews or writing letters etc.

    Finally, Dan your analogy does turn my stomach, using deaths of innocent people to justify your argument, you’re not really a nice human being are you!

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