Justice Alliance joined by former Liberal Democrats urging Nick Clegg to comply with the party’s wishes to halt devastating legal aid cuts
Philippe Sands, who publicly resigned his membership from the Lib Dems this year, joins representatives of the Justice Alliance outside the Lib Dem HQ in London at 10.00 am today demanding that Nick Clegg halts the government proposals to slash legal aid, in accordance with his party’s vote at conference this year. The move is supported by other high profile resigners, including Dinah Rose QC and Jo Shaw.
Over 100 charities and organisations, including Liberty, The Children’s Society and the Howard League for Penal Reform, will join disabled ex-prisoner Daniel Roque Hall and Harriet Wistrich, lawyer for two women sexually abused by guards at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, to hand deliver a signed letter calling for an immediate halt to the legal aid cuts following the unanimous vote at conference.
If the proposals are implemented:
- Unlawful government actions including those of the police and social services will go unchallenged;
- Vulnerable individuals, including victims of trafficking and violent offences, to be unable to access vital advice;
- There will be serious implications for access to justice and fair trial rights;
- Poor and unfair decisions of the state to go unchallenged;
- It will diminish quality criminal representation.
Dinah Rose QC, former Liberal Democrat member “The protection of the right of access to justice ought to be fundamental to a party which values civil liberties. It is put in jeopardy by the Government’s proposals to implement yet more cuts on legal aid. There is no point in participating in Government unless the leadership uses the power that it undoubtedly has to prevent serious damage being done to our legal system, and to the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.”
Matt Foot, solicitor and founder of Justice Alliance, said: “Who has stood up and supported these proposals? No-one. Time and again everyone has criticised Grayling’s proposals. Even he would not attend the debate in Parliament to defend these proposals. The truth is the government has no idea whether the proposals will work or whether it will cause total chaos. MP’s from across the political spectrum have expressed their concern at government plans which will make it hard for ordinary people to challenge the state. The recent success of the Lewisham hospital campaigners demonstrates it is vital that the government should not be permitted to act with impunity.”
Anne Hall, mother of Daniel Roque Hall, added: “’Legal aid cuts are life threatening. My severely disabled and very ill son was sent to Wormwood Scrubs despite medical concerns about his likely survival there. The prison failed, the prison complaints system was utterly ineffective and Daniel ended up unnecessarily in intensive care and hospitalised for six months. It was only through legal aid he was not sent back to Wormwood Scrubs and he was able to come home where he could be cared for safely. Legal aid saved his life.’
Leroy Skeete, writer and ex-prisoner, said: “From the age of 10 I was in and out of children’s homes. The one thing I learnt is that abuses are carried out in the dark. Legal aid shines a light and people are less likely to abuse if there is a possibility they will be exposed.”
James Welch, Liberty’s Legal Director, said: “Legal protections are meaningless if people can’t access effective legal representation. The current proposals put justice beyond reach for the most vulnerable and put the fairness of our criminal justice system in serious jeopardy. The Lib Dem membership have spoken out against these unjust attacks – it’s time for the leadership to listen.”
Julene, mother of two young children “Before I had a legal aid solicitor helping me, social services would ignore me. I have two young children and we were facing eviction. I was struggling with the rent and I had no idea what to do. When I went to court they gave me a list of legal aid solicitors and told me I needed one. My solicitor sorted things out and it was only through her that we could get social services to listen. Without legal aid me and my children would be homeless. I am very worried for people like me who would be excluded from help because of the residence test.
‘Jennie’ (anonymised) young person, “I am currently destitute and struggling to support myself. Before I got legal aid I couldn’t see a way ahead. Now I have got a solicitor and she is helping me to contact social services so that I can put a roof over my head and so that I can get proper food and support. The government plans to take away the only lifeline that exists for people like me and it makes me very worried for those in my position in the future.”
According to the Justice Alliance, knock on costs of the legal aid proposals could be up to £47 million. The impact of the legal aid cuts of April this year is already being felt by the vulnerable – victims of domestic violence and trafficking are being turned away by law firms who are at breaking point. The new proposals will make the situation far worse and severely undermine the ability of individuals including victims of torture, victims of police abuse and victims of sexual grooming to hold the state to account.
The call coincides with the end of the government consultation on its current proposals to cut legal aid and access to judicial review. The Justice Alliance will continue to protest against the proposals and show the strength of feeling of charities and ordinary people against the proposals.
Notes to Editors:
The Justice Alliance will deliver the signed letter at 10.00 am on Friday 1November 2013 at Lib Dem HQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE. To arrange an interview with a member of the Justice Alliance email email@example.com <tel:07967534670>
The Justice Alliance is an alliance of legal organisations, charities, community groups, grass roots and other campaigning groups, trade unions and individuals who are united in our opposition to the government’s proposed attack on legal aid and the criminal justice system. These legal aid proposals are part of the larger assault on essential parts of the welfare state. Visit: http://www.savelegalaid.co.uk/justicealliance #nomandatenocuts
Figures for knock-on costs are from Nick Armstrong cost figures of legal aid proposals found herehttp://legalaidchanges.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/jchr-sub-130925.pdf
Media contact For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org 07967534670 <tel:07967534670>