Socialist Worker

Protest at legal aid plan that will deny justice for the poor

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2355

Protesting lawyers stage a funeral for justice outside parliament in central London

Protesting lawyers stage a funeral for justice outside parliament in central London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Around 1,000 lawyers rallied against legal aid cuts opposite parliament in central London on Wednesday of last week. 

Up to 400 had marched in Manchester the previous day.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling wants to slash £200 million from legal aid in criminal cases. This is on top of the £300 million already gone from civil cases.

 Two thirds of law firms would disappear, leaving only those that successfully bid for government contracts.

Only people rich enough to hire their own lawyers would get to choose representation.

Working class people who end up in police stations or the courts would be lumped with a pre-selected private firm. Frontrunners include Tesco, Eddie Stobart and G4S.

“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.

“There will be an economic pressure to plead guilty, since the companies will get paid the same amount whether they have to defend someone or not.”

Legal aid would be cut off to new migrants—like the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, who fought for justice after he was shot dead by police in 2005.

Powers

“Without legal aid it wouldn’t have been possible,” Patricia da Silva, Jean Charles’ cousin, told Socialist Worker. “We didn’t know anything about the powers of the police, or the legal system.

“It could happen again to another family, and what would they do?

“Not everyone has the finances to take them on. If legal aid is taken away the police will have more power.”

Breeda Power’s father Billy was wrongly convicted as one of the Birmingham Six.  He spent nearly 17 years in prison.

Breeda said their case only took off when they were able to replace inexperienced duty solicitors with lawyers who would hunt down new evidence.

Grayling says legal aid users aren’t “great connoisseurs of legal skills” and “often come from the most difficult and challenged backgrounds”.

But it’s those with the most difficult circumstances who will lose out if they are unable to keep using the lawyers they know and trust.

Grayling is trying to rush through the consultation on these sweeping changes in just two months. 

His supporters try to spin them as an attack on “fat cat lawyers”—but many legal aid lawyers earn less than Britain’s average wage.

A mass meeting after the protest unanimously voted for coordinated training days to disrupt the plans.

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers has called for strikes.


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Tue 28 May 2013, 17:53 BST
Issue No. 2355
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