Right the time has come, I promised myself I wouldn’t do this but here it goes; I’m going to talk about Legal Aid. I promise I’ll try to keep the ranting to a minimum but I will probably break that in the next few lines. I want to specifically talk about Abu Qatada’s legal aid bill which has been the subject of much ranting in newspapers.
Abu Quatada’s legal aid bill is reportedly in excess of £500,000. That is a huge amount of money no one is disputing that but the government are making out that it is all down to him and his lawyers milking the system and the red tops eat that up. Whilst there is an element of that what must also be emphasised is the amount of time and money the government has wasted with constant appeals and criticising Human Rights when it all goes wrong. Human Rights is certainly central to the case, the use of evidence obtained through torture is the reason that the courts have denied his extradition. But successive governments have made repeated blunders in conducting the case and have missed a massive opportunity to strike a blow for human rights.
Theresa May ran the latest round of the extradition on a promise by the Jordanian authorities that torture obtained evidence would not be used. That to me is simply not good enough. This was an opportunity for our government to put real pressure on the Jordanian law makers to alter the criminal code to completely exclude the use of torture. Rather than blaming Human Rights, rather than making appeal after appeal after appeal the government should have got this right in the first place. Push for lasting reform in Jordan and then attempt to complete the extradition not jump the gun then blame Human Rights.
Legal Aid is not the problem in this case, nor are Human Rights. This huge bill is down to mismanagement of a case that is subject to an immigration system which is too complex and takes too long to reach a conclusion. Legal Aid does need addressing though, Abu Qatada has assets of over £200,000 which have been frozen. Apparently Home Office officials are looking into the possibility of using these assets to off set his Legal Aid bill. The question needs to be asked why wasn’t this done sooner? And why is this not done routinely?
This case is obviously bad timing for Legal Aid when cuts are being made to the budget it’s not good PR to be associated to a big bill for a suspected terrorist. Ministers are looking for excuses to cut every aspect of government spending and Legal Aid isn’t normally a vote winner, especially since Parliament is dragging their feet over prisoner voting rights. Everyone needs to view stories like Abu Qatada’s legal aid bill need to be viewed in context and not put down to Legal Aid itself just a long winded system and government ineptitude.
By Jack Troup