On Monday 6 January 2014 legal aid solicitors and barristers joined together in an unprecedented and historic show of solidarity against the government’s determination to impose further legal aid cuts.
At 9.30 a.m. at Westminster Magistrates’ Court a demonstration was held coordinated by The Justice Alliance, to demonstrate widespread opposition to the proposals. Across the country criminal law barristers refused to attend court until 2:00 p.m. which meant the criminal courts system was effectively stopped. The purpose was not to cause chaos, but to show the government that if they do not re-think their proposals which would likely results in an increase in miscarriages of justice, lawyers were prepared to take action to save the criminal justice system.
A case in point was that of Patrick Maguire of the Maguire seven who spoke movingly about his legal aid solicitor Alistair Logan who fought to clear Mr Maguire’s name and prove his innocence. According to Mr Maguire, Logan gave a lot of his life to the case, he spent many years fighting for justice which ultimately affected his private life and had cost him his marriage.
Janis Sharp, mother of Gary McKinnon also spoke strongly about the need for legal aid: “Cuts to criminal legal aid would affect generations to come: your children, your grandchildren and their grandchildren, and no-one knows when their family might need it.”
At a time when there is growing concern about the inability to hold the police to account, Professor Ben Bowling, a founding member of Stopwatch said, “Legal aid is what enables people who are not wealthy to hold their families together, it’s what keeps innocent people out of prison; it’s what enables the abused to face their abusers.”
Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters, an organisation supporting victims of trafficking, domestic violence and discrimination spoke of the impact on women, “The proposals will compromise their [women’s] right to effective protection as set out in the Government’s own policies and strategies on violence against women. ”;
Sue Willman, a human rights solicitor at Deighton Peirce Glynn emphasised the impact on vulnerable members of society saying that the cuts were “an attack on… the people with the fewest rights and the most need for representation. That is why we still need to try to stop the legal aid cuts.”
Further emphasis was placed on the impact on children and young people. Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform “Abolition of legal aid for prisoners, including teenagers and mothers separated from the babies, is politically motivated and not based on hard financial sense. It will mean people spend months, or even years, longer in jail unnecessarily because will no longer get legal support to get the courses they need in prison and to move through the prison maze.”;
The demonstration was also attended by politicians including Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Karen Buck Labour MP for Westminster North, and Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party.
Successful campaigners Olivia & Tony O’Sullivan of Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign raised their concerns about the proposed changes to judicial review too. “The severe restrictions on access to the judicial review process and to legal aid are undemocratic. They amount to an attack on communities’ ability to oppose government policy and they amount to an attack on the ability to defend our NHS and other public services.”;