7 MARCH 2014

Paddy Hill, spent 16 years in prison for the Birmingham Pub bombings before his sentence was quashed and Janis Sharp, mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon, fought tirelessly to prevent his extradition to the US. Today they stand together to call on the Liberal Democrats to stand up to Chris Grayling, Minister for Justice, and his attempts to prevent ordinary people challenging unlawful government decisions and to introduce cuts that will cause future miscarriages of justice.

The two join lawyers today staging their first national day of action in history, held in opposition to cuts to legal aid. Lawyers, activists and community groups protesting outside the Houses of Parliament, with speakers Stafford Scott and Shami Chakrabarti warning that the cuts would lead to a situation of state impunity, with ordinary people unable to access courts, fight unlawful government decisions and actions by state bodies effectively.

Stafford Scott said “The current proposals will impact negatively on poor communities, especially minority communities who already suffer from stereotyping and stigmatisation within the judicial and legal processes.  Holding the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission to account when they get things wrong or act outside of the law is a crucial requirement in a truly democratic society.

The Government is seeking to trick the public into thinking that the cuts are about saving money and cutting barristers fees but we believe the changes are simply ideological. We are heading towards state impunity where the truth in cases like that of Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Mark Duggan will never be exposed. These cases stand out because of the work of legal aid lawyers together with the families that fought the power of the state and highlighted the injustices within these cases. In future people will not be entitled to legal aid or there won’t exist the legal aid lawyers with the time, skills and experience to ensure that justice is done.

Legal aid lawyers help ordinary people to challenge the police when they or their family member is wrongly arrested, subjected to unlawful stop and search or racist treatment by the police. Leaving ordinary people to challenge the might of the state on their own without lawyers is not equality before the law and will not ensure that we have an accountable police service.”

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

“Some of society’s most vulnerable, including victims of trafficking and domestic violence, already struggle under the unrealistic requirements of our current legal aid system; these latest reforms will render their basic rights worthless. Justice is a fundamental basic, not a luxury reserved for the rich.”

Following the protest outside the Houses of Parliament, Paddy Hill and Janis Sharp will join The Justice Alliance, a coalition of groups opposed to the cuts including the Children’s Society, Howard League for Penal Reform and UNITE. They will lead protestors to the Liberal Democrat HQ where Paddy Hill will hand in a letter to Nick Clegg, stating:

The cuts the government are making to the legal aid are a disgrace. The results of these cuts will mean that more innocent people will go to jail. It seems that they do not learn from the past. It was bad representation that [got] me wrongly convicted. The solicitor that represented me…was totally out of his depth…they should ensur[e] we protect innocent people from going to prison.”

Janis Sharp will join those handing in testimonials from groups opposed to the cuts. 

”I ask the Liberal Democrats to persuade Chris Grayling to reverse the cuts that will plunge our judicial system back to the Dickensian age. The cuts will disadvantage the poor and vulnerable and the coalition must be unaware of the serious consequences otherwise they would not support them. There is no shame in doing a u-turn and as we all know only too well, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Cuts to legal aid would affect generations to come: your children, your grandchildren and their grandchildren, and no one knows when their family might need it. Quality, expert legal representation kept Gary here for years, until legal and medical expertise and the voice of the people, the media and ultimately the brave intervention of politicians saved Gary’s life.”

Matt Foot, co-founder of the Justice Alliance  states that the Liberal Democrat leaders had failed to respond to their own party and supporters following the near unanimous motion passed at their annual conference calling for cuts to be paused; they were failing to prevent the decimation of legal aid; and they were failing to stand up to Chris Grayling.

Matt Foot explains that Simon Hughes MP appears to have been silenced by Grayling since his promotion to a ministerial role. Prior to that he met the Justice Alliance in November 2013 and said he was not persuaded the government had the right to introduce the residence test. He has also promised the Justice Alliance he would meet with Nick Clegg and other senior ministers after receiving a document of testimonials from over 100 charities and groups opposed to the cuts. In addition Hughes is part of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which produced a report highly critical of the cuts to legal aid. Foot said that it was time the Liberal Democrats used the overwhelming mandate they had to halt these cuts to stop a Minister of Justice who has no mandate and is bent on an ideological mission to strengthen the law in favour of the state against the individual

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