When discussing quango queens and the great benefits they bring to us peasants we must all show due respect to Monica McWilliams who does such a smashing job at the wonderful Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
Regular readers will know how deeply ATW cares about proper public funding for legal aid solicitors, not to mention criminals. The proposal by Northern Ireland’s dynamic go-getter Justice Minister, David Ford, to rein in expenditure to match the mere pittance paid in England represents a clear abuse of the human right of every member of the Law Society to charge the first number they thought of multiplied by the second number they thought of multiplied by the number of hours worked per case plus whatever you’re having yourself.
Inexplicably, the solicitors’ quite reasonable protest tactic of suddenly abandoning their clients while cases are in court, even if it means sending stupid criminals back to prison without legal advice or representation, is not very popular. The masses have not yet manned the barricades to defend our starving lawyers. If only the Law Society could find someone to take up its fight, preferably at no cost to the impoverished legal profession.
How strange then that ATW’s favourite quango, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, has to date taken such a relaxed line:
“The NIHRC is not concerned with defending high levels of remuneration for lawyers; we recognise the importance of predictability and control in a context of rising costs for legal aid services, the need to be accountable for the effective use of public funds, and the importance of sustaining legal aid.”
But soft — what light through yonder window shines? The NIHRC has just appointed a new chief executive who “is a qualified Solicitor who … is a member of the Human Rights Committee and Advocacy Working Party for the Law Society of Northern Ireland.”
And what’s this? A dramatic press release –
“The Human Rights Commission has expressed serious concern at the growing number of defendants in criminal cases, including some remanded in prisons, who are awaiting trial and have no legal representation…. Chief Commissioner Professor Monica McWilliams stated: “We are concerned that this situation, if it continues, will impair the right to a fair trial …. it is the duty of the Department of Justice to ensure that legal representation is made available in Northern Ireland… We urge the Minister of Justice to continue to explore ways of ensuring that representation is made available, and to resolve the matter as soon as possible.”
Fortunately the NIHRC has very strict rules that no one can take part in discussions to change commission policy if they have a “financial or professional interest” in the outcome (“that interest will be declared and recorded in the minutes …. the person in question will take no further part in the discussion and leave the room”), so the as yet unpublished minutes will prove that the new boss had no involvement in this U-turn.
Unfortunate though that the online Register of Interests hasn’t been updated since the appointment of a Law Society activist to the top job, but any activist reader with a minute to spare can drop in at 39 North Street to make sure that the ‘live’ version records this: do report back here.