November 11, 2011

Despite coming up with one of the week’s most quotably scathing indictments of the legal profession (more on that shortly), comfy shoes Clarke Ken was once again upstaged by former Labour justice dude Jack Straw® who seemingly can’t kick his new-law-making habit.

In a valiant attempt to steal back a bit of the limelight as Parliament debated Straw®’s attempt to make trafficking in referral fees a criminal offence punishable by 50 lashes, exile and removal of the right hand, Ken censured lawyers for the heinous offence of lobbying for their own financial interests, memorably describing them as “an army of lawyers advancing behind a front of women and children.”

Sadly, the idea that any of these wronged innocents would suffer as a consequence of lawyers getting paid less carried little weight with Ken. “I’m afraid I do not believe that,” he scoffed, doubtless ridding the greedy pack of human-shielded legal types of any last shred of hope that their shabbily shameless ruse would come to any good.

As it was, MPs rejected Straw®’s draconian amendment. The which, combined with his recent embarrassment over allegedly undeclared relevant interests (in the form of a fee of £5,000 reportedly agreed for his Q&A star turn at a recent I Love Claims event), might be taken to suggest that Straw®’s stint as rabble-rouser number one in the war against fees may now be nearing its end.

In waving farewell to the prospect of criminalising those dealing in referral fees, Straw®’s fellow relevant-interest-non-declarer, Justice Minister Jonny Jangly admitted that any such criminal offence would have been “very difficult to enforce.”

Jangly’s view that “One would have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that consideration had changed hands for the referral of a potential claimant, but the grounds for determining whether something was or was not a referral fee could be blurred,” provides a hint, perhaps, of the virtual impossibility in practice of stopping somebody getting paid something by somebody for access to a potential client.

So long as the rabble of would-be claimants at the head of the greedy lawyers’ advancing propaganda column stands any reasonable chance of securing funding with which to pursue its various claims, access to its members will remain worth something to somebody legal. Brokers and smaller specialist claims firms will surely have the wit to work out some acceptable form of recompense for directing those with whom they come in contact to appropriate and reputable solicitors. The current draft of the Bill does allow “consideration for the provision of services” after all.

Nothing in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill alters the fact that the people with maximum access to the ravening hordes would-be speculative litigants and whiplashees are precisely those ruthlessly efficient claims farmers with the most highly developed and aggressive marketing tactics – cold calls, text and all the rest. If it does get hard for them to flog on the contact details they harvest, they can simply do the legal stuff themselves under some kind of ABS.

No, the only way to stop all this nonsense, as the government clearly understands, is to cut the problem off at source and stop all these troublemakers claiming in the first place. Let’s face it, humankind managed perfectly well for millennia without the common herd having much in the way of so-called access to justice. It’s simply not a luxury we can afford in the current economic climate.


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