The Solicitor General was in Lancaster last week. Whose that you say? He and his colleague the Attorney General are Government Law Officers, who provide legal advice to the Government and perform other duties in the public interest such as challenging sentences which may be too low, as happened to Stuart Hall.
They are also politicians, who have to balance their legal role with the policies pursued by the Government.
The current Solicitor General is Hertfordshire MP, Oliver Heald QC, who was in Lancaster for a meeting of Conservative students. My fellow columnist Eric Ollerenshaw MP suggested that Mr Heald make the most of his trip north and a group of local solicitors met him over a Sunday morning bacon sandwich to “raise some concerns”.
First was David Mainwaring of Holdens who spoke about the danger of imposing on Lancashire changes to criminal legal aid designed to cut down the number of law firms operating in cities such as London. These are tough times for my colleagues in the legal aid sector and whilst we all understand that public finances are under pressure, there is a real danger that changes to funding being suggested will wipe out criminal law firms in Lancashire.
Next Sarah Carr of Ratcliffe and Bibby spoke about how changes to family legal aid mean that many cannot now get funding at all, including highly emotive child contact cases, often leaving a parent (usually dad) without a legal right to see their children.
Then Nick Marshall of Marshall Glover talked about his road haulier clients who find they have “clandestine entrants” ie, illegal immigrants hiding in their vehicles. Under the current rules if the driver calls the police to hand over his unwanted guests he is still fined! Mr Heald maintained that this policy is required to combat criminal gangs who traffic people like goods.
Lastly, I raised concerns about unregulated and untrained will writers and also an alarming consultation just issued by the Ministry of Justice about enabling Lasting Powers of Attorney to be made completely “online” and without the need for either a “wet signature” or a witness.
Alarming because it would be a gift to frauds terms and encourage financial abuse of the elderly.
Mr Heald listened patiently. As a lawyer himself he showed understanding of the issues, but of course remained loyal to the Government line. He dished out his email address to us all and asked us to get in touch with more details of our concerns and case studies. I hope for all of us that some of the points we made hit home.