Sheffield played out its part in making a little bit of history yesterday, as criminal barristers and solicitors walked out of their day jobs for the first time ever in protests at Government cuts to legal aid.
The precincts of Sheffield Crown Court were reminiscent of the auditions green room for Rumpole of the Bailey, as the legal beagles barked their protestations from beneath their trademark wigs. One barrister told The Star that she and her colleagues were ‘not motivated by money, but by doing right and by fairness’. So is it right and fair that the tax payer continues to provide £2bn a year to fund one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world? Is it right that every other centrally-funded service is subjected to ‘efficiencies’, and yet our pillars of justice feel it appropriate to bring courtrooms across the land to a standstill? Spare a thought for police officers, the very people who provide defendants to lawyers: it’s illegal for them to walk out. Headline earnings of £500,000 for the six top earners, and over £100,000 for more than 1,200 barristers only add to the layman’s perception that actually, barristers are being absolutely unfair to the millions of people who are paying for what is undoubtedly a Rolls Royce service. But what of the alternative? Aren’t some things worth a price premium? It would be very easy to pontificate about being a model citizen, and not getting yourself into the position where you need defending, but you never know what’s around the corner. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about people offending for the first and probably only time because of a ‘moment of madness’. And what about the victims of crime? Doesn’t this purportedly right-thinking developed nation owe its subjects the reassurance that the machine set up to ensure liberty is not afforded those who do not deserve it, don’t get it? That old adage, ‘be careful what you wish for’ springs to mind. I’d be interested to get your thoughts, Sheffielders.