Socialist Worker

Tory legal aid bill rips up justice for poorer people

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2276

A protest opposing the Tories’ Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill held in London on Monday of this week. The bill would make it harder to squat (Pic: http://www.guysmallman.com/Guy Smallman )</span

A protest opposing the Tories’ Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill held in London on Monday of this week. The bill would make it harder to squat (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The government is attacking the provision of legal aid, housing and squatting rights while handing more power to unaccountable magistrates.

The reforms are thrown together in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. It will complete its first reading in the House of Commons this week.

The bill would make it harder for people to obtain legal aid, the means-tested help that some poorer people receive.

Victims of domestic violence would not qualify for legal aid unless they can “prove a high risk of violence”.

This would mean having secured a conviction against an attacker or having reported assaults to the police.

‘Genuine’

It’s estimated that the change would stop half of women who suffer domestic violence qualifying for the aid.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly disgracefully implied that some domestic violence victims weren’t genuine.

He said, “We need to have objective evidence of domestic violence to target taxpayers’ money on genuine cases.”

Meanwhile, legal aid would be cut entirely in other areas—including employment law, education law and immigration.

And disability campaigners say the bill would leave 80,000 mainly disabled people unable to receive legal aid to appeal benefit decisions.

The government aims to slash £350 million from the current legal aid budget of £2.1 billion. It plans to abolish the Legal Services Commission, the body that runs legal aid, and administer the scheme directly.

The bill would also make it a criminal offence to occupy a previously unoccupied building.

This is an attack on homeless people who squat. It comes at a time when housing charity Shelter predicts 35,000 more will be homeless by Christmas.

But the change could also be used against workers or other protesters occupying buildings during disputes.

Punitive

Further powers would be handed to magistrate’s courts. They would be able to impose curfews for 16 hours per day for up to 12 months—double the current six months maximum.

The bill gloats that this “allows imaginative weekend curfews which have high punitive effect but restrict employment very little”.

It would allow magistrates to impose 12-month jail terms and create a mandatory sentence of six months in jail for adults convicted of aggravated knife possession.

It would also reduce “the detailed requirements on courts when they give reasons for a sentence”.

This bill further limits the ability of ordinary people to access proper legal advice or to fight back effectively.

Labour MPs and others have tabled amendments to the bill. But the whole thing is rotten and should be thrown out.


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News
Tue 1 Nov 2011, 19:35 GMT
Issue No. 2276
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