Socialist Worker

Gareth Peirce - Cuts to legal aid a real crisis

Campaigning lawyer Gareth Peirce spoke to Socialist Worker about the cuts to legal aid and the impact it will have on working class people challenging the state.

Issue No. 2364

Campaigning lawyer Gareth Peirce speaking at Marxism 2013

Campaigning lawyer Gareth Peirce speaking at Marxism 2013 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

One of the difficulties in asking what is going to happen with these cuts is that they are such an attack on the whole system. It’s a crisis, a real crisis. It’s not just about lawyers, it’s about people who need a lawyer and who need the best legal representation.

It’s a plan. It’s not an accident. It’s not just an attack on legal aid. It’s about challenging the state’s excesses, police or government. It’s about challenging rendition, the use of torture.

How is this going to be challenged? It looks like there is a plan to make it harder.

What is being proposed is that legal aid would be reduced to contracts handed out to enormous firms, which would result in people being randomly allocated solicitors on their date of birth and processed like pieces of meat rather than human beings.

It seems the government has been made to see the extent of the opposition and amended the plans to include some sort of choice—in theory. But they are still making cuts. And there is nothing to suggest that they intend to restore the right to choose the lawyer with the knowledge and expertise to represent you the way you want.

So maybe you can choose a lawyer, but not necessarily the lawyer you would want. This is quite important for protesters.

When groups of people are arrested together they would often like one lawyer to represent all of them. But under these cuts it is unlikely they will get a lawyer who is experienced in their case. First of all such lawyers might not even exist if the cuts go ahead. 

And protesters won’t be able to find their way to the same lawyer if they do.

Look at the circumstances of mass protests, like at Orgreave, or Southall where Blair Peach was killed. The likelihood that there would be any knowledgeable lawyer to represent and pull together the case of many protesters and expose police lies, is that they wouldn’t exist any more.

The attacks on judicial review, or challenging the executive, are another root and branch attack. What you’ve got is the executive abolishing the potential for them to be held accountable. 

It’s a recipe for the executive to avoid any exposure or challenge. You see the extent of how the state intends to stop any opposition from happening.

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