Demonstration 6 January 2014

On 6 January 2014 legal aid solicitors, barristers, charities and victims of state abuse joined together in an unprecedented and historic show of solidarity against the government’s determination to impose further legal aid cuts.

At 9.30 a.m. at Westminster Magistrates’ Court a demonstration was held coordinated by The Justice Alliance, to demonstrate widespread opposition to the proposals. Across the country criminal law barristers refused to attend court until 2:00 p.m. which meant the criminal courts system was effectively stopped. The purpose was not to cause chaos, but to show the government that if they do not re-think their proposals which would likely results in an increase in miscarriages of justice, lawyers were prepared to take action to save the criminal justice system.

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A case in point was that of Patrick Maguire of the Maguire seven who spoke movingly about his legal aid solicitor Alistair Logan who fought to clear Mr Maguire’s name and prove his innocence. According to Mr Maguire, Logan gave a lot of his life to the case, he spent many years fighting for justice which ultimately affected his private life and had cost him his marriage.

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Patrick Maguire, Maguire 7               Janis Sharp

Gary McKinnon’s mother, Janis Sharp ”Without legal aid solicitors keeping my son Gary in this country until his freedom could be won, I have no doubt that Gary would have taken his own life rather than be taken in chains to the US and removed from his home, his family and all he has ever known.  Cuts to criminal 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.”

At a time when there is growing concern about the inability to hold the police to account, Professor Ben BowlingProfessor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at King’s College London School of Law and a founding member of Stopwatch said, “Legal aid is what enables people who are not wealthy to hold their families together, it’s what keeps innocent people out of prison; it’s what enables the abused to face their abusers.” Read the full SPEECH HERE

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Professor Ben Bowling and Pragna Patel

Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, an organisation supporting victims of trafficking, domestic violence and discrimination spoke of the impact on women, “The proposals will compromise their [women’s] right to effective protection as set out in the Government’s own policies and strategies on violence against women.”  READ SPEECH HERE

Sue Willman, a human rights solicitor at Deighton Peirce Glynn emphasised the impact on vulnerable members of society saying that the cuts were “an attack on… the people with the fewest rights and the most need for representation. That is why we still need to try to stop the legal aid cuts.” Read here SPEECH HERE

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Sue Willman & Frances Crook

Further emphasis was placed on the impact on children and young people. Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform “Abolition of legal aid for prisoners, including teenagers and mothers separated from the babies, is politically motivated and not based on hard financial sense. It will mean people spend months, or even years, longer in jail unnecessarily because will no longer get legal support to get the courses they need in prison and to move through the prison maze.”

The demonstration was also attended by politicians including Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington who tweeted “We need a justice system free for all” Karen Buck Labour MP for Westminster North, and Natalie Bennett,Leader of the Green Party.

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Karen Buck MP, Diane Abbott MP, Natalie BennettLeader of the Green Party

Successful campaigners Olivia & Tony O’Sullivan of Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign raised their concerns about the proposed changes to judicial review too. “The severe restrictions on access to the judicial review process and to legal aid are undemocratic. They amount to an attack on communities’ ability to oppose government policy and they amount to an attack on the ability to defend our NHS and other public services.”  Read the full SPEECH HERE

Dr Judith FreedmanPsychiatrist and head of the Consortium of Expert Witnesses “This Government is offering cheap justice in place of the opportunity to hire lawyers and expert witnesses. Contrast this with the Government’s policy of making our Courts available for hire for high profile divorce and international business disputes, from which they plan to profit. For people who cannot afford to pay – and who apart from the rich can? – many now must represent themselves. Those who manage to obtain legal aid are funded only to the extent of minimal legal and expert witness involvement. Some of us, like me, are trying to maintain our work, but increasingly we are up against the wall.” READ SPEECH HERE

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Tony O’Sullivan, Judith Freedman and Ian Lawrence

Ian Lawrence, NAPO, “The Probation Service is facing a situation where the government wants to sell off the management of offenders to the highest bidder. This will result in chaos and confusion. The plans are flawed and took a turn for the worse when SERCO and G4S were out of the bidding. NAPO is securing increasing political support in the House of Commons and House of Lords to amend damaging legislation. Our recent success means there is all to play for against the weak coalition. My message is short and sharp, there should be no place for private profit in our justice system. It is the envy of the world and one that needs to be nurtured and protected. NAPO wishes the legal profession all the best in the future campaign. We can make a difference.”

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Nigel Lithman QC & Matt Foot

Nigel Lithman QC: Paedophiles and rapists will go free if legal aid is cut, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association has warned as thousands of lawyers have staged an unprecedented walkout at courts in England and Wales. Nigel Lithman QC accused the Government of “fabricating” figures to support the cuts legal proceedings across the country faced disruption from the “strike”.

Matt Foot, Justice Alliance “There is widespread opposition to Grayling’s proposals. They will have a devastating effect on the rights of ordinary people in this country and undermine the ability to challenge unlawful government actions, which the success of Lewisham Hospital campaigners has shows is vital. No-one has stood up and supported these proposals. Even Grayling did not attend the debate in Parliament.”

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PHOTOS ©Tom Elkins @threepractices and David Tett

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