In an earlier blog post entitled Are You Important I declared that the Government did not deem me to be a Key Worker, as that was my reading of the guidance. The guidance was then – like most edicts from the Government during the pandemic – updated. The frequency of these updated schemes stinks of unpreparedness. The new guidance states that lawyer Key Workers include:
- advocates (including solicitor advocates) required to appear before a court or tribunal (remotely or in person), including prosecutors
- other legal practitioners required to support the administration of justice including duty solicitors (police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings
- solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills
- solicitors and barristers advising people living in institutions or deprived of their liberty
I’m proud. My Harrogate law firm’s work, acting for circa 800 people and some businesses, fall into these categories. Of course, we aren’t paramedics, doctors, supermarket workers, teachers or such other key people, but I am pleased that what we do has been recognised by Government as central to the functioning of the country. The Rule of Law must survive during the pandemic.
Where we lawyers have common ground with the NHS workers and teachers etc is that these last ten years access to justice has been under attack by the Government. Believe it or not, but The Ministry of Justice’s budget accounts for only around 1% of Government spending, yet this Government and its media buddies would let you believe that Fat Cat Legal Aid lawyers have bled the country dry. Under this Government, the spend on the MOJ has fallen by a whopping 40%. To quote from a Labour MP in a debate on 3 October 2019:
“The Ministry of Justice budget fell from £10.6 billion in 2010 to £7.9 billion in 2020. Let no one be mistaken: those reductions have had a consequence on the services delivered by the Ministry of Justice, on the performance of staff under pressure and on the safety of staff in prisons across the estate for which the MOJ is responsible. They have also had a consequence on the MOJ’s ability to improve reoffending rates and reduce crime and to provide a service to consumers and constituents of mine and every Member of the House regarding work on legal aid, access to justice, fighting for employment rights through the tribunal system and a range of other matters.”
In the same debate, a Tory barrister, Alex Chalk MP, stated:
“I want to take this opportunity, if I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, to pay tribute to all those lawyers up and down the country who give of their time to speak truth to power, to redress grievances and to do so entirely free of charge. They really do heroic work. It is unfashionable in this place to pay tribute to lawyers, but those who work pro bono are some of the best in our society.”
Amen to that: we do more pro bono than any firm I know.