LETTER:Overcoming wig and pen ideology

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The Independent Online
From Mr Austin Mitchell, MP

Sir: If the legal profession and its friends in Parliament succeed in delaying Lord Mackay's proposals (Section Two; "After divorce, another fight", 7 February), to be fully revealed in a White Paper around Easter, then it will fall to Labour to extract from the proposals their radical intentions and incorporate these into the general reform of legal services that is now essential.

Frustrating the Lord Chancellor's intentions has become the profession's most practised expertise. On rights of audience, on fees, on divorce, he has been confronted with a bizarre coalition of die-hards and reactionaries.

The way to break their log-jam is for the public to understand that legal services can be provided more efficiently than the legal profession will admit. Rights could be more generally enforced if resources were used more wisely. Public defenders and law centres working within the community would be far more efficient than legal aid channelled through high-street offices, which have to cover profits as well as staff costs. If properly done, the transition would allow a greater use of information technology than the wig and pen ideology of the legal professions can contemplate.

Yours sincerely,

Austin Mitchell

MP for Great Grimsby (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

The writer is chair of the Campaign for a National Legal Service.