Ok, I’m new to Objectivism and there are many things I don’t understand properly, so I’m not sure if this is actually correct, but from what I know now, I have the impression that a person with limited funds will have much less chances of winning his case if he is facing an opponent who has the means of affording good lawyers. Is this moral?
For anyone who is new to Objectivism, there is much that one can learn by checking various topics in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, which is readily accessible on-line (there is a link for it on every Q&A page of this website). For example:
On the issue of forced charity, here is a further excerpt from Ayn Rand's article, "Collectivized Ethics" (VOS Chap. 10):
Objectivists will often hear a question such as: "What will be done about the poor or the handicapped in a free society?" [...]
Many today might ask: but aren't there always special cases that serve as exceptions to any general principle? Aren't principles inherently impossible to practice fully consistently? Accordingly, people respond to any statement of broad principle by vigorously searching for possible exception cases. They wonder if a discussion of charity would apply to legal aid, since legal aid is a different concrete than values like food, clothing, shelter, education, roads, bridges, transportation, the Post Office, the coining of money, and so on. The practicality of principles is addressed in the Lexicon under the topics of:
Basically, principles are impractical if they are derived from a mystic metaphysics and epistemology. They can be completely practical if derived from reality and reason, as they are in Objectivism. (In Objectivism, "derived" refers more to inductive generalization from observation than to deduction from prior premises, though still with logic as man's method of non-contradictory identification and integration.)
There is an entire philosophical tradition of mysticism, altruism, collectivism and statism that Objectivism opposes -- and an entire alternative trend of reason, egoism, individualism and capitalism that Objectivism upholds and carries to fully consistent completion.
As for legal aid, it is a man-made value, like so many others. Objectivism recognizes and upholds the rights (and causal efficacy) of those who create and make possible the values that man consumes. (Refer to "Consumption" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.)
Along the same lines as the search for special exceptions, people sometimes also look at our society and political system as it is, and then ask: what would happen if one specific aspect of that system were to be changed as Objectivism advocates, while leaving the rest of the system intact? The answer is that Objectivism doesn't advocate making piecemeal changes out of context; a mixed system (mixing freedom and controls) isn't likely to work very well and may actually hasten the deterioration and final collapse of a society by leaving bad principles fully in place, waiting to resurface and grow again at any time. For example, why would there be a need for "legal aid" in a free society, differing in status from man's need for anything else?
Update: Government Financing
It should also be stated explicitly that government funding of anything presupposes that there is a source for the funds. Objectivism advocates voluntary government financing. Refer to "Taxation" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.
It is appropriate for a government in a free society to perform an activity if the following two criteria are satisfied: (1) the proposed activity does not violate anyone's individual rights, and (2) the proposed activity is instrumental to achieving the sole legitimate purpose of government—protecting individual rights.
If the proposed government activity violates rights by initiating force against innocents, then the government should not engage in the activity, no questions asked. Such actions are the exact opposite of what the government is supposed to do, and they directly generate substantial harm.
However, just because an activity is not rights violating, that does not mean that the government should engage in it. Some non-rights violating activities are inappropriate for the government to perform. In particular, the government should only engage in activities that are instrumental to achieving the legitimate purpose of government, which is ensuring the protection of individual rights.
Application to Public Legal Aid
Government funded legal aid clearly would not violate individual rights in a free society, and thus the first criteria noted above is clearly satisfied.
Whether or not the second criteria is satisfied with regard to legal aid is a more difficult question. Although I think that it may be possible for there to be some reasonable disagreement on the issue, ultimately, I think that public legal aid is instrumental to protecting individual rights, at least in the case of criminal prosecutions. A brief sketch of the arguments I find convincing in this regard follows.
In order to protect individual rights, the government must establish a justice system that includes courts to determine whether accused persons are guilty of a crime. Furthermore, in order for the government to effectively protect individual rights, the criminal justice system must be as just as it is practically possible to make it (meaning a system that achieves the correct result as often as possible). Because we are not omniscient nor infallible, achieving the correct result in every criminal case is by no means guaranteed. Thus, if the government is to be able to establish a just criminal justice system, the government will need to be able to establish objective institutions, rules, practices, and so on that are calculated to increase the likelihood of achieving correct results in criminal cases. Because such institutions, rules, practices, etc. are clearly instrumental to achieving a just criminal justice system, they are also instrumental to protecting individual rights. Thus, it would be acceptable for the government to establish such institutions, rules, practices, etc. that increase the likelihood of achieving correct results in criminal cases (always assuming, of course, that the first criteria is satisfied as well). Obviously, establishing such institutions, rules, practices, etc. often will include providing funding as necessary—for example, it costs money to provide a competent judge, to pay for jurors’ expenses, to provide a competent prosecutor, and so on.
Turning now specifically to legal aid, it seems indubitable to me that ensuring that all criminal defendants have some legal representation increases the likelihood of achieving just results in the criminal justice system. If this is so, then by the above-noted analysis, it would be acceptable for the government to establish such institutions, rules, practices, or the like that would ensure that all criminal defendants have some legal representation. Accordingly, if it is not possible for some criminal defendants to obtain legal representation, whether by paying for it themselves or through private charity, then it would be acceptable for the government to pay for it.
The precise form of the institution, rule, practice, etc. that the government should establish to ensure that all criminal defendants have some legal representation is debatable, and will depend on the specific context of the free society we are hypothesizing. For example, if private charity in the free society is sufficient to cover the legal needs of all indigent criminal defendants, then there would be no need for the government to set up an elaborate public legal aid institution, and perhaps all the government would need to do is facilitate indigent defendants connecting with such private charities or something like that. Alternatively, if private charity is not sufficient to cover the needs of all criminal defendants, the government could simply hire private attorneys on an ad hoc basis for those defendants. Alternatively, if the number of times that it is necessary to hire a private attorney for a defendant is sufficiently high, it may be more efficient for the government to establish an institution comprising full time defense attorneys for indigent defendants funded by the government (i.e., what we commonly think of as public legal aid or “public defenders”). Given that we do not know the specific context of the hypothesized society, it seems rather fruitless to debate what the “best” institution would be. It suffices for purposes of this question to note that public legal aid is one possible answer that would not be forbidden to a proper government.
Note, however, that the above analysis does not justify public legal aid on the altruistic grounds of a duty to satisfy the "needs" of the indigent defendant. It may be true that legal representation is a value and that the indigent defendant needs this value, but the reason the government can legitimately provide this value has nothing to do with the defendant's needs. Instead, the justification is the government's mandate to protect individual rights by establishing a just criminal justice system. It is in nobody's best interest to have a government that convicts innocent people because it can't be bothered to spend the money required to fully develop the factual record. The very existence of an unjust criminal justice system is a threat to every citizen, even those who would never face the prospect of a criminal prosecution without representation--just because you yourself might not be at risk of wrongful conviction does not mean that you do not suffer harm from its occurrence, even if only by the loss of the value that otherwise potentially could have been provided to you by association with good people who were instead wrongfully put away.