Road Traffic Representation was honoured as a finalist at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards in London on 1 July. I listened to heart-warming stories about the great work that dedicated legal aid professionals do, mostly for very little tangible reward and often having to fight the state and its manifestations every inch of the way, just to be able to help their clients.
I confess to feeling something of a fraud to find RTR nominated for an award, given that legal aid is rarely available for motoring offences, so how could it even be considered for such an honour? The easy answer is that the category was ‘Access to Justice through IT’ and marks the gap that IT can fill where the state fails to make provision by way of public funding.
This set me thinking more about the term ‘legal aid’. These words have been enshrined in legislation for decades and have long become a term of art referring to public funding of legal services. Sadly, successive governments have cut and cut and hoped that the lawyers would go away so that public funding would wither and die. The brave lawyers I heard speak in London this week are never going to let that happen without fighting all the way.
Motoring offences have long been denied public funding, so RTR is designed to help more people obtain legal advice and representation, by automating the analysis of a case and providing free legal advice on penalties and potential defences, and using technology to automate the brief to Counsel so as to minimise the cost of quality advice and representation.
These online services will be extended to many other legal needs, including family, employment and welfare. Taking all this into account, I don’t feel such a fraud after all. The state has shamefully lost the right to claim ‘legal aid’ to itself and we, the lawyers who give our all, whether by traditional means or technology, are truly entitled to claim that we provide legal aid, as our elected representatives do not.