“Ministers keep using the mantra that their proposals are to protect the most vulnerable when, quite obviously, they are the exact opposite. If implemented their measures would, far from protecting the most vulnerable, directly harm them. Whatever they do in the end, Her Majesty’s Government should stop this 1984 Orwellian-type misuse of language.” – Lord Bach, discussing the Legal Aid Bill. Source: Hansard, Column 1557, 19 May, 2011.
Chris Grayling has been caught out again by the high court, this time for trying to protect insurance companies from people who have only a couple of years to live.Tomorrow he will try to scrap legal protections available to British citizens from the European Convention of Human Rights. It is a very damning charge sheet. What we are witnessing is a full scale assault against the rights of citizens and an attempt to bolster the powers of the state and private companies. And it is being conducted by the lord chancellor himself.
These were the victims he picked: mesothelioma sufferers. People who inhaled asbestos, usually through work. It is a horrible disease. From the point of diagnosis you usually have two years to live. That is why the House of Lords exempted them from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo).
This legislation forced people winning compensation to pay up to 25% of it in costs. It’s supposedly intended to address those personal injury claims you see on daytime TV, according to the government.
But mesothelioma is not a typical personal injury claim. Sufferers have two years to live, through no fault of their own. Their only crime was simply doing their job. So Section 48 of the bill exempted them from the payback requirement until the lord chancellor had conducted a review.
But he did not conduct a review. He brought in what the Ministry of Justice later pretended was a consultation. It wasn’t.
The people being consulted had no idea it was happening. If they had, they would have brought evidence. It was all fakery. And then the government predictably lifted the exemption. This isn’t the behaviour of a first -world, liberal, democratic government.
During the case, Leigh Day partner Harminder Bains found that the government had made a deal with the insurance industry to benefit it at the expense of the mesothelioma sufferers.
As the judge said this afternoon, when he found against Grayling:
“The question I have to answer is simple: did the lord chancellor carry out a proper review of the likely effects of the Laspo reforms on mesothelioma claims as Section 48 required him to? I conclude that he did not. No reasonable lord chancellor faced with the duty imposed on him by Section 48 of the Act would have considered that the exercise in fact carried out fulfilled that duty. This is not a case in which the procedural failure was minor or technical in nature.”
“It was obvious that the proposals would have a devastating effect, and cause great injustice to victims of mesothelioma. It would have reduced the compensation payments to many, and in some instances, it would have prevented some victims of mesothelioma from recovering any compensation at all.”
Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said:
“Mesothelioma is a horrific industrial disease. Its victims deserve better than the shameful way this government has treated them. Instead of honouring their commitments, David Cameron and Chris Grayling have wasted thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on expensive lawyers to dodge justice. Hardly a week goes by without the High Court finding the lord chancellor has acted unlawfully in driving through cuts in legal services for the most vulnerable groups in society.”
Meanwhile, Grayling is preparing tomorrow to unveil Tory plans to scrap Britain’s human rights laws. As published here, the plans would repeal the Human Rights Act and break the formal link between the European Court of Human Rights and British law. Its judgement would now be treated as advisory and need to be approved by parliament.
Let’s be clear what the human rights attack really is. It is not about euroscepticism or common sense or any of the other justifications they are using. It is about scrapping legal protections against the state.
Grayling has tried to take legal aid from the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, in a move branded contrary to the very principle of equality under the law. He turned legal aid into “an instrument of discrimination“.
He has tried to dismantle a vital legal protection available to the citizen – judicial review – which has been used to stop him abusing his powers again and again. He has tried to restrict legal aid for domestic abuse victims, welfare claimants seeking redress for wrongful state decisions, victims of medical negligence, for example. And now he wants to take away citizens’rights to take their case to the European court.
His every action is intent on tearing up essential British legal protections for citizens and massively bolstering the powers of the already authoritarian state.
The hypocrisy is evident in that this is a government which claims to pride itself on its dislike for the state. But in every meaningful way, it is vastly increasing its powers, and authoritarian reach.