Around 1,000 lawyers, legal workers and supporters rallied opposite parliament today, Wednesday, against government plans to slash legal aid in criminal cases.
Instead of getting to choose their own representation, people would be lumped with whichever private firm could deliver it most cheaply. Front runners include Tesco, the Co-op and Eddie Stobart. Also under consideration is security firm G4S, currently in the spotlight because of the inquest into the death of Jimmy Mubenga during a forced deportation.
“I know that without legal aid I would still be in prison,” said Gerry Conlon—one of the Guildford Four who spent 15 years in prison for a bombing they didn’t commit.
“We were lucky to get lawyers who believed in us,” he continued. “Back in the 1970s they sent innocent people to jail by the vanload. But if these cuts go through they’ll be sending them in by the Eddie Stobart truckload.”
Other victims of miscarriages of justice spoke out, alongside MPs and leading barristers.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling and his supporters have portrayed the cut to legal aid as an attack on “fat cat lawyers”—although many on the protest earn less than the median wage.
But as well as putting up to three quarters of Britain’s law firms out of business, Grayling’s plans would make it far harder for working class people to defend themselves when hauled before the cops or the courts.
“You could end up with the same company representing you in court, driving you to prison, locking you up and overseeing your incarceration,” solicitor Claudia Barker told Socialist Worker. “They will have no interest in defending clients. And there will be an economic pressure to just plead guilty, since the companies will get paid the same amount whether they have to defend someone or not.”
Grayling is trying to rush through the consultation on these sweeping changes in just two months. But he may have united the legal profession against him. Some, including the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, are even calling for strikes.
“The people who need legal aid are the poor and the working class,” said Gerry. “This is something worth fighting for. Don’t let them destroy it—let’s fight these cuts and get rid of these contracts that would see clients as pieces of meat.”