Letters: Grill Grayling on legal aid changes

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 3 July 2013

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Today (3 July), the Justice Select Committee has the chance to challenge the Government’s plans to reform legal aid, when it hears evidence from the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling. These reforms threaten people’s basic right to fair legal representation. Sir Alan Beith and his Justice Committee should seek commitments from the Justice Secretary on three key issues.

First, reforms must not restrict people’s ability to use judicial review to challenge unjust decisions made by government agencies. Judicial review is the main mechanism used to ensure local authorities who fail in their legal duty provide emergency accommodation to families in a crisis. This will make it even more difficult for charities like Shelter to help homeless families find a place to stay for the night.

It’s also vital that the Government doesn’t go ahead with the residence test. It will prevent many of the most vulnerable groups, like destitute children and victims of trafficking, from qualifying for legal aid, and deny access to others, like the homeless, because they may not have the proof needed to show they have been lawfully resident in the UK for a year.

Third, the Committee must ensure that high-quality legal advice is maintained. We welcome the announcement that Government will retain the right to a choice of solicitor in criminal trials, but doubt over quality advice remains. Price-competitive tendering risks driving out smaller providers who do both civil and criminal work, and could contribute to those with specialist needs, for example, mental health issues, being unable to get support. 

Nobody denies the extraordinarily tough financial situation the country is in, but legal aid expenditure has already fallen by 25 per cent in the last decade. Parliament must seize its opportunity today to get answers from the Justice Secretary on these vital issues.

Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice, Campbell Robb Shelter, London EC1

How could for-profit schools work?

Your leading article (2 July) points out the advantages as well as the main issue for allowing schools for-profit, namely that for-profit companies may recklessly borrow to finance projects because they know the taxpayer underwrites the liability, thereby encouraging over-leveraging.

In a free market with little government interference, businesses that over-borrow and do not make a profit fail, leading to the banks repossessing property and selling off assets to recover debts. Competition forces firms to make sensible decisions so they do not go bankrupt.

However if we were to allow this model in education, poor education providers would go bankrupt, leaving children without a school to go to, leading to disruption as they move school. If we are to allow for-profit education providers to be backed by taxpayers, constraints on borrowing must be set up.

James Paton, Billericay, Essex

I cannot see how a private company could possibly provide a good education for the same cost per pupil as a state school and also bank a profit. State schools operate on perilously tight budgets already, and the better ones count on the commitment of their teachers, and the parents’ fundraising efforts, to maintain a strong standard. I fail to see where the trimmable waste is that would enable a private company to operate a school to the same standard as a public body for the same per-pupil cost while creaming off a worthwhile profit.

For-profit state schools in the US have not raised standards or cut costs, they have merely removed schools’ accountability to taxpayers, parents and the local community.

The central fallacy, as with all privatisation projects, is that a private company will operate so much more efficiently that it will be able to provide the same goods or services at a sufficiently lower price than the public body it is replacing, so as to enable it to cut a tidy profit while also saving the taxpayer money. This idea is so totally illogical that it should require significant testing before any major risks were taken on it.

Thank you, Independent, for exposing Mr Gove’s nefarious plan to cede control of our children’s education to those whose motivation is only their own profit. Now all we have to do is stop him.

Ellen Purton, Twickenham, Middlesex

Is the Tory party quietly going insane?

I suspect that there is more in this plan than meets the eye and it may be that the ultimate objective is to turn the state education system into such a complex mess of schools that it will be almost impossible at reasonable expense to bring it back under state control. This will enable a return to selection both by ability and money, to further secure the privileges of the rich and powerful.

Dudley Dean, Maresfield, East Sussex

Challenge to Blair over Libya torture

William Hague’s vociferous assertions that our security services at all times act within the law are not credible.

In 2004 my client, Sami Al Saadi, an exiled opponent of Libya’s president Gaddafi, was handed to Libyan agents with his family by the Hong Kong authorities, at the request of MI6. The family arrived back in Libya on 28 March 2004, three days after Tony Blair arrived in Tripoli for his famous “rapprochement” meeting with Gaddafi.

Once in Libyan custody, Mr Saadi was imprisoned in appalling conditions for six years, and repeatedly subjected to severe torture. He was given a show trial in 2009, condemned to death, and then finally released in 2010. 

While being tortured in Tripoli he was visited and questioned by British intelligence personnel. Gaddafi’s habitual torture of political prisoners was well known. Subjecting people to torture in Britain or overseas is illegal under British law.

The British Government has paid the Saadi family £2.2m in settlement of a claim. This size of settlement could not have been authorised unless MI6’s conduct in relation to the Saadis was illegal.  

It is too much of a coincidence that the Saadi forced return coincided with Tony Blair’s visit to Tripoli. I call on Tony Blair to disclose all he knows about MI6 and British government action in relation to Sami Al Saadi.

Paul Harris SC, Founding Chairman, Bar Human Rights Committee, Founding Chairman, Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, Oxford

No austerity for the Queen

The Queen’s latest pay rise reminds me of my recent visit to Blenheim Palace. I learnt that the fourth Duke (1739-1817) kept in use 187 rooms which needed 75 staff to look after.

The Queen (alone in Britain) has the use of four large houses and has just received an income rise of 5 per cent to £37.9m per year. This government-funded income helps to pay for her 436 staff to whom she has granted a 5 per cent pay rise, and will contribute to the £1.1m renovation of Kensington Palace (a fifth house) for William and Kate.

Hasn’t the news reached the Queen yet that we are living in a time of austerity? But I suppose I can’t blame her for asking. I would probably have done the same. The people I do blame are our mealy-mouthed politicians. Not a single member of our three major parties had the courage to object on our behalf to this largesse. Let the poor suffer! 

I may order a few tumbrils to lend out to the revolutionaries.

David Ashton, Shipbourne,  Kent

Worse than Guy Fawkes

Derek Haslam (Letters, 28 July) is behind the times. We’ve been burning a Thatcher on Bonfire Night ever since we acquired our home in 1985. My two boys have grown up with the annual task of finding blond wig and handbag.

She did far more damage to Britain than Guy Fawkes ever would have done. Blowing up a bunch of corrupt, overpaid stuffed-shirts who utterly fail to represent us hardly compares with rendering three million unemployed, failing to prevent a war, sowing the seeds of the banking catastrophe and presiding over the destruction of our manufacturing industry.

Ian East, Islip, Oxfordshire

Internet foreseen

The internet was predicted far earlier than many of your correspondents think.

“A Logic Named Joe” is a science fiction short story by Murray Leinster that was first published in the March 1946 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The story is noteworthy as a prediction of massively networked personal computers and their drawbacks, written at a time when computing was in its infancy. The story is set in 1974.

Jonathan Shirley, Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire

Frisco’s poor

I recently returned from nearly three weeks on a Californian road trip. I can confirm your report on 2 July about the homeless in San Francisco. It has its streets, architecture, bridge and cable cars, but my main memory is that I have never anywhere seen on the streets so many down-and-outs and people who were clearly mentally disturbed.

Alan Pearson, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire 

Heated debate

Whatever one’s views about CO2 and global warming, it is unbelievable that a newspaper with a “green” agenda such as The Independent espouses can possibly be plugging “the ten best patio heaters” (2 July). These are on a par with payday loans in the general scheme of human follies. Shame upon shame on you.

Tom Simpson, Bristol

Body parts

Why should those of us who have already arranged to donate our bodies to medical research have to go through the humiliation of opting out of a national organ donation scheme, such as that proposed for Wales? And, if we don’t, which medical organisation would have priority?

Brian Christley, Abergele, Conwy

Relatively safe

Ban “immensely dangerous” Chinese lanterns? Britain is the second largest arms exporter in the world with a 15 per cent share of the market. Let’s get some perspective here.

Sasha Simic, London N16

Immortal

If as reported all life on Earth will end in a billion years, we can be sure that the Rolling Stones will still be touring.

Mark Thomas, Histon, Cambridgeshire

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