Categorized | Legal Aid

The protests go on

The protests go on

Last week hundreds of lawyers and support staff took to the streets of London and Manchester to protest against the planned legal aid cuts.

The rallies were organised by the Criminal Justice Alliance. This is a coalition of legal organisations, charities, community groups, grass roots and other campaigning groups, trade unions and individuals who are united in opposition to the government’s attack on legal aid and the criminal justice system.

The demonstration outside London’s Old Bailey was told that serious miscarriages of justice will go uncorrected if the government pushes through their legal aid plans. A message from one of the Birmingham Six said: “Had these new proposals been in place during our imprisonment we would never have had our day in court to clear our names…Should the Ministry of Justice’s proposals be implemented, the tireless work of solicitors involved in miscarriages of justice and human rights cases will be severely diminished or totally extinguished leaving no one to take up these cases.”

The rally also heard from investigative journalist and Panorama reporter Raphael Rowe, who was convicted in 1990 of murder as part of the M25 Three, but acquitted and released a decade later. “I wouldn’t have been released without legal aid,” he said. Other speakers condemned the proposed cuts to legal aid for prisoners, the limits to be placed on public funding for judicial review and the cuts to criminal legal aid.

Addressing the rally, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan accused his opposite number Chris Grayling of being the most “legally illiterate chancellor in the history of the country,” and vowed to fight the government’s proposals. Other speakers included Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, and the Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn who is on the Commons justice select committee.

The Manchester rally was told that the only way forward was concerted industrial action, which would involve possibly closing the court system for days. Barrister Peter Weatherby, QC, also stressed the importance of action. He described the cuts as “an assault on legal aid…We need to make our voices heard, legal aid is in jeopardy.” He added: “There is a potential for a huge upsurge in miscarriages of justice because as we know if you have publicly funded advocates and representatives then on occasion miscarriages of justice can be reversed.” Robert Lizar, a well known Manchester solicitor, stressed that the march was not just about protecting lawyers. “This is not just about our jobs, it is about justice,” he said.

In response, justice minister Lord McNally, in an article in the ‘Guardian’, described the protests of some of those opposing the legal aid reforms as “dangerous scaremongering.” “When we have finished, England and Wales will still have one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world. We will still be spending around £1.5bn pounds a year on legal advice for those most in need of it” he wrote.

Lord McNally said the changes won’t affect people’s ability to get a fair trial, nor will they destroy Britain’s criminal justice system, “of which we are rightly proud.” He added that “suggestions that the poor will be excluded from criminal legal aid are simply preposterous,” adding, perhaps mischievously, “I am pleased the Law Society has acknowledged the government’s need to make savings, and that the legal market must consolidate if it is to survive.”
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, G4S, a contender for any PCT contracts, has pulled out of the race for the new £3 bn electronic tagging contract amid fraud enquiries.

This post was written by:

- who has written 460 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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