We live in dangerous times. With a government free to do as it wishes due to the lack of an effective opposition, and with elements of the media so powerful and unrestrained that they have the ability to influence millions, we are all the potential victims of ideologues pursuing their own agendas, with little understanding of the common good.
We have seen this phenomenon manifest itself in many ways recently: in intolerance for those in need, in xenophobia, in attacks on our very freedoms enshrined in human rights. Now lawyers are increasingly becoming the targets of such attacks.
In the last week there have been at least two examples: the claim by Theresa May that ‘left-wing’ lawyers are making vexatious claims against our armed forces, and the claim in a populist national newspaper that ‘vulture lawyers’ ‘bled’ the NHS of £418 million in one year. Notice the hysterical tone of the rhetoric: this is designed not just to make a point, but to stir up hatred against the lawyers.
Now, the fact that neither of these attacks stand up to even the most basic scrutiny is neither here nor there – the point has been made, and those wanting to hear it are not willing to listen to any sort of rebuttal. Notwithstanding this, I will say a couple of things about these attacks.
As to the attack against ‘left-wing’ lawyers pursuing claims against the armed forces, there is the obvious point that such claims are decided by courts not lawyers, and the politics of the lawyers will have no bearing upon the decision of the court: if the claimant has a good case, the claim will succeed, if they don’t have a good case, it will fail. On a higher level, isn’t it important that our armed forces act in accordance with the law? After all, isn’t that what makes us better than our enemies?
Moving on to the claims against the NHS attack, the response to this is obvious, and the clue to it is contained in one of the sub-headings of the newspaper report, which referred to law firms suing the NHS for “medical blunders”. Now, the last thing I want to do is criticise the NHS, but if it didn’t make so many blunders then obviously it would not have so many successful claims against it. Look at it from the point of view of the victim of one of those blunders, who may have suffered some life-changing injury: if that were you, you would want compensation, wouldn’t you?
Now, I know that lawyers are not the most popular group in society, and are never going to be (I remember years ago seeing a ‘league table’ of professions and occupations, ranked in order of how well they were regarded by the public – it didn’t make very pretty reading for lawyers). However, contrary to what some would have you believe, lawyers perform an essential function in our society: protecting the innocent, the vulnerable, the victims of wrongdoing and all those whose rights have been breached, often by bodies far more powerful than they are.
We see this every day in the field of family law. Consider, for example, the parents threatened with having their children removed from them by the state. Or what about the incapacitated, who need someone to speak for them? Consider also the countless victims of domestic violence who need protection. Or how about the parent who has been denied a relationship with their child? Or simply the confused litigant going through a divorce, who needs a helping hand sorting out their financial settlement?
If you are tempted by these attacks to see lawyers as the enemy, looking to protect their ‘fat-cat’ incomes, remember one thing: one day you may need one. If this anti-lawyer rhetoric results in fewer lawyers or fewer remedies for those seeking legal redress, then we are all potential victims of it.
OK, I realise that nothing I have said here is original. In recent days I have seen a number of other lawyers far more exulted than I am saying similar things in defence of their profession, and no doubt there will be more to follow. However, this is such an important issue I felt I should add my small voice to the debate.
Image by Howard Lake via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence