On Wednesday 6th January, the Justice Alliance brought together over 400 justice campaigners in a renewed call to protect and promote our legal aid system.
Speakers included survivors of state and corporate abuse, human rights lawyers, trade unionists and NGO workers, united by the vital role legal aid has played in their battles for justice and accountability. These included Helen Steel of McLibel fame, who convinced the ECtHR that her inability to access free representation during the longest running case in British History breached her right to a fair trial, as well as activist Marcia Rigg, who refused to pay the £21,000 the Legal Aid Agency demanded for her to obtain answers to “real simple questions” about how her brother died in police custody.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, warned us that the cuts to legal aid were “deeply deeply ideological and spiteful”, whilst Emma Scott of Rights of Women (whose speech was read out by Heather Harvey), called out the government’s “lies” in claiming to protect victims of domestic violence whilst putting insuperable evidential hurdles in the way of their accessing legal support.
Despite the crushing blow that came late last year with the Court of Appeal’s upholding of the discriminatory “Residence Test”, the mood in the hall was defiant, not least due to the result of the recent Labour leadership contest. Jeremy Corbyn MP has been a stalwart supporter of our cause since its earliest days. To rapturous applause, he closed the night’s proceedings by recognising legal aid as “basic human right”. Justice Secretary Michael Gove was also kind enough to stop by, if only in puppet form.
The event was covered by the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/jan/07/right-legal-aid-basic-human-right-jeremy-corbyn-justice-alliance-meeting) and Justice Gap (http://thejusticegap.com/2016/01/12221/). A fully summary of the night’s proceedings will be uploaded on this website later in the week, alongside a full audio recording.
Special thanks go to Patrick, puppet maker extraordinaire, and campaigning photographer Jess Hurd for allowing us to screen her wonderful photos, and you can see her gallery of the night here – http://www.reportdigital.co.uk/Public/latestresult2.php?SearchString=GBR826%20And%20anana*