Brother Ivo takes his name from the patron saint of lawyers, who was effectivley the first recorded legal aid lawyer; he was certainly famed for his advocacy on behalf of the poor. It is a cause close to Brother Ivo’s heart, so he accordingly tuned in to listen to listen to Labour Justice spokesman Sadiq Khan with real interest as Mr Khan told the nation about his priorities should he be given the justice brief in a Labour Government.
We heard that Mr Khan’s modest family origins caused him to identify with and speak up for the poor, and if that be so, good for him. We all ought to applaud those who come through from modest origins, unlike David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and, err .. Ed Milliband, Ed Balls, Harriett Harman, Hilary Benn, and many others on Labour’s top table.
Brother Ivo was himself born during post war austerity, in a council house which his parents were not exactly entitled to occupy, so as boys from the wrong side of the tracks, he and Sadiq ought perhaps to stick together.
Unfortunately that that bonhomie and fellow feeling did not last long into his speech.
Sadiq Khan quickly went into attack mode on behalf of the much criticised Human Rights Act, making the common mistake of confusing substance and form. He prayed in aid Sir Winston Churchill, who, he seemed to suggest, would have leapt to the defence of the HRA against the proposals of some on the right who wish to repeal it.
Brother Ivo is not quite of the era, but is historically informed enough to know that Britain did not place itself under the authority of the European Court despite having originally defined the concepts of the Human Rights Convention. We, unlike most of Europe, had not fallen under the intellectual sway of either the jurisprudence of Fascism or Marxism . We had our common law to protect us: it had evolved organically over hundreds of years , having been framed and refined by fair minded judges. We did not instantly join up to the European jurisprudential renewal – because we did not need to.
To have insisted upon British participation would have been an impertinence, rather like asking Sir Chris Hoye to take a cycling proficiency test. Sir Winston would have instinctively known that Britain’s courts did not need to place themselves under Human Rights Principles – because they embodied them.
So much of Mr Khan’s big point. Yet as he made his case, few in the hall appreciated that he was standing on incredibly thin ice.
As as a proud Human Rights lawyer, Mr Khan has operated within a protected environment. Britain has to fund Human Rights cases, and does so richly if reluctantly. Thus Abu Quatada and his lawyers consumed £1.3m on his 8 year campaign to avoid the justice in his home country. Jordan has just acquitted him.
Is is anybody outside the Human Rights gravy train thinking “So glad we spent the money”?
The prioritising of cases such has Mr Quatada, has come at a cost, largely in the family Courts. It is common knowledge that the priorities which the Human Rights Act accorded to the absolute rights found within Immigration and Asylum Law, broke the old system of Legal Aid. The budget was finite: the new area of law was the cuckoo in the nest which duly began to heave the original offspring out of the nest.
Legal Aid was established as part of the post war Welfare State, and undoubtedly grew enormously under both Labour and Conservative governments. Both moved quickly to make economies when budgetary problems struck.
Labour, and its 3rd sector cheerleaders were very swift to condemn the £200m cuts to the Legal Aid budget, introduced by the Conservatives, and rightly so. Labour is not usually reticent about spending money or promising to reverse ” Tory Cuts”.
Brother Ivo therefore waited to hear Mr Khan announce that such cuts would be reversed. He waited in vain.
Mr Khan it appears is a blowhard. Strong on the rhetoric, weak on the application.
For all the talk of justice, Mr Khan and his party are talking in the abstract. Human Rights without Legal Aid for the poorest members of society, provide but a fig leaf of justice.
Mr Khan chose to avoid owning his policy. An open politician would have explained why he has chosen to retain Chris Graylings priorities having plainly decided to do nothing to put the flesh on the bones of the rhetoric.
The Abu Quatadas of the world and those representing them will continue to suckle on the taxpayers teat, but ordinary people in, say, Clacton or Heywood and Middleton will continue to be on their own when family problems take them to Court.
Doubtless Mr Khan will next be in the television studios expressing disbelief and incomprehension when UKIP advances thanks to the support of the ordinary voters who have found the Welfare State is not there for them when they need it. Once they thought Labour stood for folks just like them, Mr Khan is teaching them otherwise.