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Letters: Legal aid cuts will deny justice for all

These letters are published in the Friday 17th January edition of the Independent

I have worked as a criminal barrister since 2007. I am 31 years old, state-school educated and from a single-parent family. I became a legal aid criminal barrister because I was committed to representing those who could not afford to pay for a lawyer.

I had to take out a loan to pay for my legal education. I knew this was a risk because I was not going to become a well-paid commercial lawyer, but I was prepared to take that risk because justice for all matters to me.

Even though I have a very busy practice, it has been a constant struggle: I work extremely long hours; I sometimes earn as little as £50 per day; I struggle to pay my rent and expenses each month, and I remain in debt.

If the Government cuts legal aid fees any further I will not be able to sustain myself. Simon Hughes is calling for those from “poorer backgrounds” to consider a career in law (“Legal profession must do more to reflect modern Britain”, 13 January). But the reforms of this government to legal aid will mean that those from less privileged backgrounds, like myself, will have to find another career.

This is a great shame and will reverse changes in the make-up of the profession. However, it is my clients I am most concerned about. I will be able to get another job, but they may not be able to get another lawyer.

Eleanor Hutchison

Temple, London EC4


We work with the NHS

In response to your News in Brief item regarding the Care Quality Commission (“Inspectors are pointed to private healthcare firm”, 13 January), we have a proud commitment to complementing the NHS rather than seeking to replace its services – always asking our members to seek help via the NHS first before approaching Benenden Health.

Benenden Health, founded in 1905, is a mutual, not-for-profit organisation with a UK-wide membership of over 900,000. Rather than an insurance company, we are a provider of discretionary healthcare services in return for a flat-rate membership fee. Our direct involvement in the NHS has existed in other ways since its foundation midway through the 20th century.

We would happily confirm that our involvement with the Care Quality Commission forms part of our business-to-business operations, and that membership of Benenden Health is down to employees’ personal decisions and not funded through the Care Quality Commission. We refute any suggestion that our brand contributes to any detrimental impact on the NHS as this would run contrary to our core values.

Marc Bell

Chief Executive, Benenden Health, York


Sherlock kills a blackmailer

Although one cannot but agree with the general sentiment regarding vigilantism expressed by John Rentoul in his piece (14 January) about the final episode of Sherlock, he should remember that the writers did not stray as far as he thinks from the morality found in Conan-Doyle’s original story. 

In “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”, written in 1904, Holmes and Watson break into the blackmailer’s house, empty his safe of documents and then witness from behind a curtain Milverton being shot dead and mutilated by one of his female victims. 

So far from trying to prevent the murder and the killer’s escape, Holmes and Watson flee the scene without reporting it. In fact there is satisfaction that justice had been done even if from outside the law.

At least the TV incarnation of Holmes was prepared, rightly or wrongly, to do the deed himself and to take the consequences.

Philip Brindle



Tenants on benefits

Michael Garret (letter, 15 January) defends Fergus Wilson on the grounds that landlords should be able to terminate the tenancies of those who are in arrears. Perhaps he should re-read your article, whose point was that he is terminating many tenants who are not in arrears, on the grounds that, being on benefits, they one day might be. Not at all the same thing.

David Watson



Fracking: don’t  take the Money

Step 1: Cut local authority funding year after year until, even after cutting many services and thousands of jobs, it is impossible to balance budgets.

Step 2: Offer to give authorities some money if they are prepared to risk severe environmental damage.

Step 3: When some authorities give in to this bribe and agree to fracking, take back the money you gave them in more cuts the following year.

Moral: Never exchange for cash anything that you can’t easily replace. Cash can easily be taken back. Once you have wrecked the environment it is too late to wish you hadn’t.

John Illingworth



Sex, lies and being a President

Someone may be good at chess, yet bad at football, and a President of France may be good at “presiding”, yet bad at running romance. 

Some assume, it seems, that if dishonesty occurs in one segment of a person’s life, it corrupts all other segments; but why think that? Just as people may appreciate opera’s aesthetic value yet not painting’s, so some may value honesty in affairs of the state, yet succumb to dishonesty in affairs of the heart. After all, numerous people lie when they say that they have read the terms and conditions, yet tell the truth when asked the way to the station.

Peter Cave

London W1


Uphill battle against abortion of girls

Congratulations on a brilliant piece of journalism, tackling the taboo subject of female foetus abortions (“The lost girls”, 15 January). I have been chair of a women’s group for 12 years and we have campaigned on this issue. However I am saddened to say our message has fallen on deaf ears.

Religious and political bodies pay lip-service to equality but adopt practices which are against women. Traditions have been revived such as Lohri, celebrated for a boy’s birth or wedding, Rakhri, where sister ties a thread around brother’s wrist asking him for protection, and Karva Chauth Varat, where a wife fasts all day praying for her husband’s long life. The community have made the girl a burden to bear but forgotten that from a woman sons and kings are born, a saying of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion.

Not all in the Asian community are the same; the majority love their daughters, but a minority still pray for baby boys in some of our Gurdwaras, which are complicit in this practice, as income derives from donations from parents celebrating boy births. No amount of education will make these people change their attitudes.

Rest in peace the souls of those girls aborted. Families and communities who condone such violence against unborn women will never thrive. In their old age when their boys dump them, they will wish they had a daughter to care for them.

Please continue with your campaign to stop this nefarious practice of gender-selective abortions.

Cllr Balvinder Kaur Saund

Chair, Sikh Women’s Alliance, Ilford, Essex

News that female foeticide has reached the UK’s shores is a shocking indictment of how widespread this malign practice has become.

In India, there are a staggering seven million more boys than girls aged under six, according to the 2011 census, and the gap is growing. The national figure has fallen to an alarming 914 girls for every 1,000 boys. In some states such as Punjab that ratio is as low as 846 girls to 1,000 boys, as parents mistakenly see boys as a faster route out of poverty.

Despite the Indian government enacting a law against using ultrasound technology for sex-selective abortions, the practice continues and is believed to result in more than 500,000 female foetuses being terminated every year.

Yet, as your story illustrates, this is not confined to India, and any decline in the relative number of girls needs to be halted, as it risks undermining economic and social achievements.

Plan’s “Let Girls be Born” initiative in India galvanises action to tackle the country’s disturbing sex ratio. Yet this is now a global problem and must be tackled on the international stage.

Tanya Barron

Chief Executive, Plan UK

London EC1

An aspect of prenatal sex selection and the resulting imbalance of the genders which has not been sufficiently discussed is the long-term impact on the security of women and the happiness of men.

If there are in extreme cases as many as 140 men for every 100 women, then roughly one in four or five men is unlikely to find a life-partner. It has already been seen in China that this can result in oppression and violence, including kidnap and forced marriage. The idea that scarcity of women puts power in female hands is a misconception. It also means that many men will lead unhappy, frustrated and empty lives, and will be unable to have children.

Catherine Rose

Olney, Buckinghamshire