Cash, influence and access to justice

Cash, influence and access to justice

Scandal has erupted over an offer to dine with the UK Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and influence policy, in return for money. Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas was filmed promising undercover journalists access to the top reaches of government, in return for donations of up to £250,000. The reporters, from the Sunday Times, had posed as overseas wealth fund managers.

When he was exposed, he resigned and said his offer was just “bluster”. Prime Minister David Cameron too claimed that cash could not buy influence. Cruddas, who founded internet securities dealer CMC Markets, reportedly himself has a fortune of £750 million.

The government had previously been hit by allegations about the purchasing of influence including, in December 2011, reported boasts by lobbyists Bell Pottinger about access to ministers. Cameron is now under pressure to disclose details of private meetings with donors and allow Cruddas’ claims to be thoroughly examined.

Ironically, the latest scandal is taking place while top politicians are trying to push a controversial Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Bill through Parliament. This would severely limit access to legal aid for some of the most vulnerable. Those who would be affected include UK citizens seeking redress against injustice by state officials, and people in poorer countries whose lives have been devastated by the actions of UK-based multinationals.

While the House of Lords has made some amendments to this widely-criticised Bill, and may further amend it, these changes may be overturned in the House of Commons. It is likely that basic access to justice will be increasingly denied to those unable to afford heavy legal costs, while individuals and organisations with a quarter of million pounds to spare may receive “premier league” treatment. Some may wonder about the values that underpin society today.

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(c) Savi Hensman is a widely-published commentator on politics, society and religion. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

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