The Coalition is moving to reduce the amount that Governments pay out in Legal Aid. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – not, as might be expected for such a post, anyone with experience of the legal profession – has put forward proposals which are expected to save £220 million a year by 2018. This will be achieved by putting an earnings ceiling in place: those earning above the limit will not qualify.
Harry Mount - misguided
This week, the debate has heated up, and it is rather obvious that compliant hacks are being fed the Government line, such as James Chapman at the Mail, whose name appeared under the headline “£15m for just one firm on legal aid gravy train ... Scale of taxpayers' bill revealed as Coalition vows to save £200m”. And to no surprise at all, Carine Patry Hoskins’ name is being pitched as evidence.
Into the argument has waded a wandering fool by the name of Harry Mount, who may be familiar to those observing the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs. Mount, who has written leaders for the Maily Telegraph and lots of books (allegedly) has fetched up at the Spectator to observe “Take it from a former barrister: Chris Grayling is right to reform legal aid”. And the line he takes is as clear as that at the Mail.
This holds, more or less, that the legal profession is full of millionaires and otherwise overpaid hangers-on, and Mount trowels on the pejorative language: “bleating lawyers ... ruinous cost ... vastly inflated fees ... gilt-edged perks ... overcharging charade ... cosy myths ... lucrative boondoggles ... overrated jobs ... delusion of brilliance”. As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point.
Fraser Nelson - foolish
Mount even leads off with a Shakespeare quotation, from Henry IV Part II, but this is the beginning of his undoing: “Let’s kill all the lawyers” in fact comes from Henry VI, which is a whole two Henries off target. And most of the comments to the Speccy piece are not merely passing adverse comment, but excoriating Mount for his sneering ignorance of, well, the whole subject area.
Indeed, Simon Myerson QC swiftly responded to Mount’s snarky copy with “9 reasons why Harry Mount’s hatchet job on the legal profession misses the mark”, taking the latter’s arguments apart in short order. And he notes that Mount is an “ex-pupil barrister”, which means he didn’t complete his pupillage. So Mount has little room to refer to himself as a “former barrister”.
That did not stop Mount from writing a book on his time as a pupil, which also received short shrift from the profession: David Pannick QC, after addressing the volume’s shortcomings, noted that Mount had “a good degree in Ancient and Modern History, a loud clear voice, and is ‘comfortable in London’”. So another of those clever people who talk loudly in restaurants, then.
Who is the bigger fool – Mount for writing his piece, or Fraser Nelson for letting him?