Bernard Dineen: Little evidence of justice in legal aid system

LEGAL aid is a system which gives people with limited means access to the law, and denies help to those who don't need it. Right? No, wrong.

Any lawyer can tell you of worthy applicants who have been denied help while taxpayers' money is ladled out to the most bizarre cases. Foreigners are particularly welcome. You might think a Palestinian Arab living on the West Bank was an unlikely applicant, but he has

been handed several thousands of pounds.

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The man has no ties to Britain, but he applied to the English courts for an order preventing the British Government from supplying some machinery to Israel. Not only was he granted legal aid but, when he lost his case, he was given further cash to go to the Court of Appeal, where he lost again. No harm done? Except to the pocket of the hapless British taxpayer.

A fraud case involving a Danish bank, Scandinavian defendant and property in Spain and Gibraltar cost us 10m. Or what about the German inventor living in Italy, who sued a Japanese company in an English court? He lost the action, leaving us with a bill for 500,000.

Then there was the wealthy Iraqi businessman, a former aide to Saddam Hussein, who was awarded 2m to fight fraud charges. He used the cash to appoint a team of top lawyers, yet he had servants and half

a dozen homes.

I could fill this column many times over with similar cases. The Lithuanian family awarded 100,000 after claiming their three-bedroomed flat was too small. A Jamaican illegal immigrant convicted of

dealing crack cocaine, given legal aid because she had Aids and treatment in Jamaica is poor. And, of course, the Afghan hijackers who threatened to blow up a passenger jet: their legal aid bill topped 4m. Jack Straw threatened them with immediate deportation but they are still here, living on benefits.

Needless to say, "human rights" played a prominent role, a burglar won 5,000 in legal aid for injuring himself during a burglary. A woman got 250,000 for the trauma of witnessing a road accident. A prisoner was granted legal aid to sue the

Home Secretary because he couldn't get a second helping of rhubarb crumble in the jail canteen. Another prisoner was enabled to sue the prison service because his prison savings, meant to pay for phonecards and cigarettes, were in a zero-interest account.

Perhaps the most celebrated case was that of the M25 killer, jailed for life, who received 250,000 in legal aid, even though he had a property empire in Tenerife and access to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

What should happen is clear. There should be a system of strict vetting of claims for legal aid, and lawyers should play no part in deciding whether their clients succeed. But there is not the slightest chance of that happening: the other side is far too deeply entrenched. So the present situation will continue, while deserving cases are denied help.

Meanwhile, the least we can do is stop the naive self-delusion that the present system is fair. It isn't.

WHEN the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, said that immigration should be firmly controlled, and the British had a right to safeguard their own identity, you might have thought it was such a truism as to be scarcely worth comment.

It has, however, provoked an outpouring of sanctimonious tosh from some of his fellow clerics. The Bishop of Lincoln makes the disgraceful suggestion that a "whiff of racism" in the cross-party group on immigration gives comfort to the likes of the BNP.

The Bishop calls for a "more nuanced" debate on immigration. When did he ever call for a debate, nuanced or otherwise?

The Dean of Southwark Cathedral tries to compare present-day immigration with "Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to safety in a foreign land".

The usual gang have joined in. One of the immigration pressure groups which gobble up public money says that "migrants are net contributors to the public purse" when a Parliamentary committee found exactly the opposite.

This is the classic trahison des clercs, the betrayal of ordinary people by the intelligentsia. You may be sure none of the reverend gentlemen lives in a back street in Dewsbury, or is marking his 10th year on the council house waiting list in Tower Hamlets.

These clerics are the very people who play into the hands of the BNP by pretending problems do not exist. Their arrogance in reviling Lord Carey is downright disgusting.

HOW lucky we were during the cold spell to have the electricity from wind farms. Except we had nothing of the kind: the useless objects provided virtually none – one tenth of one per cent – because the wind wasn't blowing.

So, 80 per cent of the electricity came from coal-fired power stations, many of which will have to be closed on orders from Brussels, or gas. Another triumph for Labour's joined-up thinking.