Elly rallies troops over legal aid

LAW Society President Charles Elly issued a rallying call to his beleaguered troops when he told the solicitors' conference: “I salute you.”

Elly paid tribute to the dedication of legal aid lawyers who worked for next to nothing and hit out at the constant carping by chief constables and government spokesmen.

His stark warning was that the pressures on solicitors providing legal aid were becoming intolerable.

“There is a limit and, I fear, for many of us it is now being reached,” he said.

But he added: “I reject entirely the notion that we should retreat into an exclusive self-serving pressure group, concerned for our own pockets.”

The Law Society should not impose rules for the benefit of its own members. They had to be in the public interest, he said.

Elly's concern for clients also came through in his stinging attack on the controversial fundholder proposals.

“Let no one be deceived by this talk. It is not about empowering lawyers with freedom to exercise their professional judgement about what service clients need.

“Nor is the agenda simply to restrain the growth in spending. It is altogether more sinister; it is to fix arbitrary cash limits on the budget.”

He said legal aid had to be planned in relation to need and if the Government wanted further guidance, the society was on hand to help.

But Elly stressed if clients were set to get a raw deal then solicitors were already suffering.

“There is what appears to be a concerted public campaign by police officers to blame lawyers for failings in the justice system,” he said.

“Does this really help understanding or is it just a smokescreen designed to divert attention from the police's own failings?”

Elly said the quest for cheap headlines about defence lawyers was unacceptable.

“I cannot recall the last time that anyone paid any tribute to the dedication of legal aid practitioners and particularly those who regularly get up in the middle of the night to go to police stations.

“You may not hear it from anybody else but for my part I salute you.”

In a round-up on the high cost of civil justice, Elly proposed limits on disclosure, time limits on trials, and increasing use of arbitration.