Legal Aid in the UK is a tax-funded largesse which successive governments have dispensed and, which having been dispensed, is usually followed by the tax funded excesses of successive Home Secretaries in their increasingly vainglorious attempts at overturning legal aid funded decisions made in court. Whether our legal aid system demonstrates that we really are a nation that supports ‘universal justice for all’ are complex subject areas. Peter Oborne remarked in a recent article that:
The great virtue of the rule of law in this country is that it protects unpopular individuals, just as much as the ordinary law abiding citizen.
The outpourings of fury, which greeted the decisions reached by Mr Justice Mitting meeting to keep Abu Qatada in this country, are largely directed against what is perceived to be the slavish adherence of the UK judiciary to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). There is a view that this adherence could easily be resolved by parliament repealing to the Human Rights Act 1998 and withdrawing from the ECHR. An article appearing 2011 written by Rosalind English with the title Withdrawal from the European court of human rights is not a legal problem remarks that:
In fact the rulings of the European court of human rights are binding not on our courts, but on the government (which is not bound by rulings of our own supreme court). The only “binding” effect of Strasbourg is limited to section 3(1) of the Human Rights Act, which compels a court dealing with a case concerning a human rights question to interpret it in line with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
It is The Judiciary that has ruled that UK law is subservient to EU law as a result of the Factortame rulings in the House of Lords. In this instance, the judicial authorities in the UK ruled that their position at a full legal level was inferior to that of the law decided within the ECHR. All of the foregoing is a matter for legal debate on which I am not qualified to opine. However the issue of ‘legal aid throughout the EU’ is available on the European Judicial Network .
While legal aid does exist throughout the EU, perhaps the only common feature between member states is access to it. EU member states place many restrictions and qualification requirements on applications for legal aid, from citizenship restrictions to ‘just cause (excludes triviality)’ qualifications, with these varying between member states.
The UK certainly has what are probably the most ‘lax’ or the most ‘compassionate’ regulations regarding access to legal aid – depending on your viewpoint. I would suggest that transferring any judicial powers into the hands of of an elected minority, which is what parliamentary authority is – and a ‘supreme power’ at that – may be a cause for regret.
However outraged you may feel at recent judicial decisions, I would suggest that you give serious thought to what you wish for and who should bear the real responsibility for your outrage.
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