Emma Thompson calls on all those with any interest in access to justice to join ‘Not The Global Law Summit’ protest
Civil liberties groups and human rights lawyers will this weekend walk from Runnymede to Westminster in defence of the legacy of Magna Carta and to highlight the hypocrisy of the government’s three-day event to mark the 800th anniversary of the historic document, the ‘Global Law Summit’.
Actor Emma Thompson, currently in Berlin making a film about resistance to National Socialism, has lent her support to the aptly named ‘Not the Global Law Summit’. Unlike the government’s event, the protest promotes the principles of Magna Carta – open justice for all and equal access to the courts and lawyers, says Thompson.
The Ministry of Justice is marking the not-quite 800th anniversary of Magna Carta with a £1,700 ticket event, which has conveniently been organised mere weeks before the general election and nearly five months before the actual anniversary of Magna Carta, which falls in June 2015.
The Justice Alliance, a group of NGOs, charities and community groups united in their opposition to ongoing cuts to legal aid, has organised the protest, which will culminate with a rally at Westminster on Monday 23rd February with speeches from TV star Maxine Peake, and supporters of Shaker Aamer – a British resident who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay for thirteen years without trial or charge. It is difficult to imagine a more relevant case to Magna Carta and notable that the ‘We Stand with Shaker’ Campaign has not been invited to the Global Law Summit.
Speakers at the government’s Global Law Summit include Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, as well as David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Sir Roger Carr, the chairman of arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which supplies military equipment to Saudi Arabia and was fined £256million in 2010 for defrauding the US government. Last week Lord Stephen Green, the former chairman of HSBC, withdrew from giving one of the opening speeches at the event after standing down from CityUK, one of the main financial organisations behind the summit.
The government’s celebration of Magna Carta and the Rule of Law comes at a time when the Ministry of Justice has come under criticism for removing access to justice for tens of thousands of people through ongoing cuts to the legal aid budget and other areas of the justice system.
Included in the line-up of speakers at the demo on Monday 23rd February is Marcia Rigg, who set up the ‘Justice and Change campaign’ after her brother Sean Rigg died in police custody.
Deborah Coles, Co-Director INQUEST, who is supporting the Rigg family, says:
“Holding the state to account, highlighting wrongdoing and poor and dangerous practices, protecting the most vulnerable, this is in all of our interests.
Anyone attending an inquest into a death in custody or detention will see an array of lawyers representing the interests of state institutions paid for out of public funds. Without legally aided representation for bereaved people there would be no proper public scrutiny of what takes place behind the closed walls of custodial institutions or of the acts or omissions of state agents. The abuses of power uncovered at many of these inquests would remain unchallenged and hidden from public view.”
Shadow Solicitor General Karl Turner MP says:
“I will not attend the hypocritical Global Law Summit even though I have been invited. The 23rd February marks the start of the Global Law Summit in London with the pretence of commemorating 800 years since Magna Carta and the introduction of the rule of law in Britain. The actual anniversary falls in June; but the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, has brought the event forward to just before the election to try and make political capital out of the anniversary. It also marks the point at which the Government will be beyond satire when it comes to Justice. The hypocrisy of a Coalition Government that wants to extol the virtues of British Justice whilst at the same time dismantling the Legal Aid system and systematically restricting access to the Courts is astounding.
Instead of this sham event, I will be attending the real deal, ‘Not the Global Law Summit’ whose events include a march from Runnymede to Westminster, a protest outside Parliament and a ‘Stand Up For Legal Aid Event’.
Magna Carta declares that “To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice”. If we look at the Coalition government, they have done exactly that.”
Michelle Bates, sister of Barry George says:
“Without the help of a legal aid lawyer, my brother, Barry George, who was wrongly convicted of the murder of TV presenter Jill Dando, would still be languishing in prison today. To add insult to injury, Barry has never been awarded any compensation by the Government for the years he spent incarcerated for this killing.
The Magna Carta enshrines justice for all and this huge event is planned to show off to the world just how wonderful our justice system is. But the British justice system is broken. Ongoing cuts to legal aid mean that the most vulnerable people in society are being denied access to justice, and victims of miscarriages of justice are being denied compensation for their years of suffering in prison. These celebrations are a sham: I don’t see we have anything to boast of.”
Jon Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and senior legal aid lawyer, says:
“The Global Law Summit is an exercise in window dressing. It can only pay lip service to the rule of law. It’ll be a one-off event because in years to come there’ll be nothing left of our justice system that anyone could pretend to be proud of.
Our courts, which I notice the Summit offers no delegate visits to, are becoming an embarrassment. Lumbering, costly and in turmoil, places where frankly access to justice and the legacy of Magna Carta means little. If, and we’re doing our best to stop them, legal aid cuts to representation in police stations are forced through, we’re about to see a rise of massive legal warehouses offering tick-box justice, we’re going to see a worrying return to the dark days of the 70’s and 80’s and miscarriages of justice. “
Robin Murray, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, says:
‘At a time when Mr. Grayling is intent on decimating access to justice it is a truly a nauseating spectacle to watch him adopting the mantle of Magna Carta at the Global Summit. This is particularly ironic as we are presently locked in a court battle with the MOJ over their damaging proposals for legal aid which will leave many people will facing court proceedings alone, brought by an over mighty State with no legal champion to redress the balance. The spirit of Magna Carta will be found at this and other events. Not at the global summit.’
Not the Global Law Summit Schedule of events
Saturday 21 Feb: 3 day Relay for Rights March starts at noon from Runnymede
Timeline here: www.justiceallianceuk.wordpress.com
Monday 23 Feb: Relay for Rights starts Putney and finishes in Westminster approx 12.30pm:
12.45PM PHOTO OPPORTUNITY Procession of Relay for Rights marchers with medieval jesters and musicians + ‘King John’ effigy
1PM – 2PM LUNCHTIME RALLY- NOT THE GLOBAL LAW SUMMIT
Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament SW1P 3JY
Reading from Magna Carta by TV Silk star Maxine Peake
During the rally King John will be publicly impeached.
Deborah Coles of Inquest with Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean who died in police custody (rthey will speak about the denial of legal aid for bereaved families in inquests); Michelle Bates, sister of Barry George who was wrongfully convicted of murdering TV presenter Jill Dando; Karl Turner MP, Shadow Solicitor General; Matt Foot, co-founder of the Justice Alliance; Jon Black, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association; Ian Lawrence of Napo.
2 pm (appx) The rally closes and a delegation including King John Grayling will deliver Magna Carta to the Summit
7 30 pm: Stand-up for legal aid: Justice Just got Funny starring TV + Radio comedians Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe and Stephen K Amos. At the Union Chapel, Islington N1 2UN
Additional useful links: