Not the Global Law Summit

The Global Law Summit (GLS) is a trade fair, heavily promoted by the Ministry of Justice, which aims to display the wares of British lawyers to the rest of the world – what Mr Grayling likes to call ‘our global leadership in legal services’. London is the venue of choice for international litigants who like their lawyers and judges honest, or if not honest, at least well regulated.

It’s pointless complaining that some of the clients may have been neglecting their legal or ethical hygiene – a commercial lawyer who only advised saints would need to take up mini-cabbing to pay the rent. Lawyers have to walk down mean streets without themselves being mean. It can be done.

The trouble with the GLS is that the Ministry of Justice, under the cack-handed Chris Grayling, insisted on tying it to the 800th anniversary of the first edition of Magna Carta. That made his corporate jamboree look like a gross piece of hypocrisy. Magna Carta is in reality a dead letter in the law, but the myth persists that it delivered the English people from overbearing government. The words of clause 40 give the myth its potency: ‘to none will we sell, deny or delay Right or Justice’.

The GLS is explicitly about selling justice to the world, as a commodity. The MoJ has already done much to sell right and justice in the UK, by outsourcing swathes of the criminal justice system to the likes of G4S and Serco – bywords for incompetence and bad practice. We used to tell ourselves that criminal justice was like an elderly Rolls Royce – a bit rusty, a bit expensive to run, but a guarantee of quality and worth the effort. Now the Roller is on blocks, and Del Boy and his van are waiting to take over, if they get the chance.

The MOJ has denied access to justice (and hence, justice) to many, by taking key areas of law ‘out of scope’ of legal aid altogether, and cutting it to the bone where it remains. Kenneth Clarke, the Macavity of the LASPO cuts, said he had to do something about legal aid, because it had grown so much and ‘made the poor extremely litigious’: that casual smear stood in for the non-existent evidence for the MOJ’s ruthless policy. It has introduced fees that make employment tribunals unaffordable to most claimants, and proposes more increases across the board for Courts and Tribunals. At the same time the government has made it harder to get legal redress for administrative wrongs, by restricting the availability of judicial review – a remedy that Mr Grayling believes to be a preserve of left wing pressure groups, and therefore fit for strangulation. If he has his way, he will scrap the human rights protections given under the Human Rights Act.

His government has delayed justice by running down the whole system, so that the Courts are overstretched, underfunded and clogged by people representing themselves because they can’t get legal aid and can’t afford a lawyer. Now even the Public Accounts Committee, whose MPs nodded along when the cuts were being made, thinks they have been a disaster:

The Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) is on track to make a significant and rapid reduction to the amount that it spends on civil legal aid. However, it introduced major changes on the basis of no evidence in many areas, and without making good use of the evidence that it did have in other areas. It has been slow to fill the considerable gaps in its understanding, and has not properly assessed the full impact of the reforms. Almost two years after the reforms, the Ministry is still playing catch up: it does not know if those still eligible are able to access legal aid; and it does not understand the link between the price it pays for legal aid and the quality of advice being given. Perhaps most worryingly of all, it does not understand, and has shown little interest in, the knock-on costs of its reforms across the public sector. It therefore does not know whether the projected £300 million spending reduction in its own budget is outweighed by additional costs elsewhere. The Department therefore does not know whether the savings in the civil legal aid budget represent value for money.

400 years after Magna Carta, when Hamlet was listing the things that made him wish not to be, they included ‘the law’s delay, the insolence of office’. Anyone dealing with the MoJ will sympathise.

The destruction that has been wreaked on British Justice makes a mockery of the use of Magna Carta to adorn the GLS, and brings it into disrepute. Dr Johnson said that there few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money – in which case the GLS delegates are thoroughly innocent. They may well also be innocent of the knowledge of what Mr Grayling and his friends are doing. In his feisty speech to the GLS today, Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, may have helped to educate them when he said ‘our duty is clear: obstructions to justice are a denial of justice, as Magna Carta teaches’. Tony Cross QC, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, will have used all his powers of advocacy to do the same.

Asking for a decent accessible system of justice for everyone is a modest, even a conservative, demand. Having to make that demand proves how extreme, subversive and insolent the people in charge have become. This was the demand made by the participants at Not the Global Law Summit, in the freezing cold outside the Houses of Parliament today. If that demand can be met, then the next GLS will be something to take pride in, and not a grotesque embarrassment.