May 222013

On the 22 May the Mental Health Resistance Network won their Judicial Review case against the Atos tests (WCA) and the impact on those with mental health issues. We congratulate them, the two people that took the case and the solicitors for the work they have done in exposing the WCA for the nightmare that it is for those with mental health issues and all disabled people. The DWP say they will appeal the ruling: we hope this is the beginning of the end for the WCA and the horrors that it is putting people through. However, this success would not have been possible without legal aid, and is tempered with further fears of the legal aid cuts.

 The Condems have already pushed through some of their wealth charter on justice and legal rights through their punitive cuts to legal aid for those facing benefit problems. Its not over yet-they now want to re-examine the process of Judicial reviews. However, the cuts so far are already affecting the process of judicial reviews because the new rules mean that those solicitors who take cases are less likely to be paid with the Condem cuts. We do not see all the work that goes into cases nor the effect that the cuts are having on those solicitors and legal firms who believe that justice has no class basis and is not restricted to those with wealth. But the Condems have cut funds to solicitors and CABs which means we have fewer allies to fight our cases. The Condems are doing a great job of removing every element of human rights, welfare and social justice from the British people. We cannot continue to let them get away with it without doing more and more about it.

 The proposals cover a range of aspects of legal aid including criminal work, prison law and judicial review and it can be difficult to get across what it means.

 In judicial review, for example, it’s hard to explain the impact of the proposal to prevent solicitors getting paid for all the work they do on cases if they don’t end up getting permission to go to a full hearing. So many cases succeed before that by just spelling out what the public body is doing wrong so they realise they have to sort it out. But there can be loads of work involved in getting to that stage and it would be really hard if lawyers can’t get paid for that at all. Judicial review lawyers and other legal aid lawyers will try everything they can to keep trying to help people but it just gets harder and harder to survive and already that means it’s hard to find someone skilled enough who can take cases on.

 What is clear is that disabled people will be disproportionately affected within each of the areas that is proposed to be cut – including disabled prisoners and others in the criminal justice system but also in areas like public law/judicial review which disabled people need help with more than ever now because of the effects of other cuts.

 We are trying to encourage as many people as possible to come forward with stories that illustrate the real types of problems they face that legal aid is vital to help with. There is a brilliant website set up by someone from Young Legal Aid Lawyers

 People can submit stories of how legal aid has helped them (or hasn’t been able to help them because of the effect of the cuts already – eg in many areas there are ‘advice deserts’ where you simply can’t get hold of a lawyer with the right expertise). There are several about disabled people unable to fight injustice because of cuts already in place in many areas including the criminal justice system.

 We need to see more experiences good and bad – the issues and what can be done to sort them out are so invisible to most people. There aren’t many examples of disabled people tackling problems with social services cuts etc.

 The website makes it really simple to give the examples. It’s so important to show people that it’s not about lawyers, it’s about people who need advice, and it’s a false economy to deny them that, in so many ways not least undermining the rule of law because people have no real access to justice unless they are wealthy.

 Please help and give your stories

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