On the anniversary of the Magna Carta, charities ask Chris Grayling MP, Are You For Justice?
Charities mark the 799 anniversary of the Magna Carta with mass protests throughout England and Wales against cuts to legal aid.
Tony Hancock reduced audiences to gales of laughter with his impassioned plea, during a comedy sketch, asking if Magna Carta, a brave Hungarian peasant girl meant nothing to them, ‘Did she die in vain?’
Today, as the Justice Alliance leads protests on the anniversary of this hallowed document, referred to as ‘the greatest constitutional document of all times’ there’s something rather sad about Hancock’s performance.
Justice Alliance, an alliance of charities, community groups and unions including Liberty and the Howard League for Penal Reform, are protesting against cuts to the legal aid. The group recently launched a hard hitting YouTube film featuring Stephen Fry which shows in stark terms who these cuts will affect – victims of rape, victims of domestic violence and victims of miscarriage of justice. The film also features Gurkha Lance Corporal Gyanendra Rai who says ‘Without legal aid life is incomplete’.
The Magna Carta proclaims that ‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’. Access to justice must be an essential requirement of any legal system, but it cannot be effective without practical means to enforce legal rights, in the courts if necessary. This is why legal aid was introduced by the Legal Advice and Assistance Act 1949.
However, as Matt Foot, co-founder of the Justice Alliance says “The Magna Carta is the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of an oppressive state. The Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling in cutting legal aid is removing the ability of the individuals to challenge the state; he is undermining the rule of law. These cuts will result in miscarriages of justice and will mean that legal challenges are not brought and wrongs are not righted. With the encroachment of secret justice into our legal system, this is another way the state is removing accountability for its actions.’
The cuts are facing increasing opposition from all side of the political spectrum. Recently Conservative MP, Sir Ivan Lawrence at a speech to the Tory Reform Trust called legal aid cuts ‘total madness’ which were ‘weakening’ and ‘betraying’ the rule of law.
Today protesters will be taking ‘jelfies’ (justice selfies) which is a picture of yourself holding a sign saying ‘I am for justice’. Celebrities Stephen Fry, Jo Brand and Tamsin Greig have already led the way with their #jelfies and you can follow the protest on twitter and tumblr #iamforjustice