Legal Aid is absolutely essential if there is to be anything called justice. Without legal aid justice is skewed towards the rich and powerful and in those circumstances you cannot have justice
Civil liberties groups and human rights lawyers 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’.
Susan Matthews speaking at Runnymede said “It is my son Alfie’s experience that is the reason why I am standing here today and I have come to Runnymede. He could not have been acquitted of the charge of violent disorder which followed the injury from a police baton, without legal aid.”
She stood next to a giant effigy of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling MP, dressed up as King John. Magna Carta was sealed by King John at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215.The charter established, for the first time, that everybody in England, including the king, was subject to the law. The lasting effect of Magna Carta was to grant certain liberties to all ‘free men’ (i.e. landowners) in the Kingdom of England.
Susan Matthews stated that despite it seeming obvious that her son was innocent and the police guilty, it took 12 weeks and three trials for her son to be acquitted and the prosecution was funded “by what seemed to be an unlimited purse”. Susan Matthews estimates that the action against her son cost around £850,000 and in contrast to the cuts to legal aid and limits to access to justice for those who are the victims of unlawful actions by the state, the police spend a great deal of money defending themselves “So it seems that cost is of no concern when an action is being taken against people.”
Susan Matthews explained that innocence is not a simple matter. At first, she states “It seemed to me as if perhaps we could just do it ourselves. We just had to stand up and tell our story. I had not realised, even though I had done jury service, quite the nature of the adversarial system in criminal justice. I did not realise that apparently to my mind completely innocent things would be used against my son.”
Susan Matthews concluded before setting off on the 49 mile walk to London stating “So I know that legal aid is not just important in criminal trials like those of my son, or in actions against the police but it is absolutely essential in all aspects of law, in family law, employment law and immigration law.
That is why I am here.”