Government plans to cut Legal Aid will prevent people on average incomes from having access to the courts and will destroy local small businesses that people trust, say campaigners.
On Sunday 29 September a coalition of campaigners, community groups, lawyers, trade unionists and concerned citizens will meet at 11:30 in front of the steps at Manchester Crown Court to demonstrate against these and other cuts to Legal Aid. At noon the group will march to join the demonstration against cuts to the NHS, the privatisation of the Probation service and other attacks on public services.
Speakers include GCN's Jared Ficklin and Mark George QC, John Nicholson, a Manchester Barrister and access to justice campaigner; Jennifer Hilliard of Parents for Real Justice, whose son Chris was falsely charged with assaulting a police officer; Kate Green, MP for Streford and Urmston; and other local lawyers and community members who are affected by this attack on citizens’ rights.
Chris Hilliard is one of the organisers of the demonstration, and knows something about the importance of Legal Aid. He said, “In 2010, I was arrested. David Cameron himself spoke about the incident and cried for justice – he called for those responsible to feel the full force of the law, while talking about police officers being dragged off police horses and beaten. The reality was quite different. I was the victim of an assault by the police. But this took two barristers and a number of solicitors to put together. It took their hard work to form all of our evidence into a case for both myself and my brother, entirely funded by legal aid. My lawyers went far above the minimum standard wanted by [Minister of Justice] Grayling and fought for me. If it wasn’t for Legal Aid, I would most likely be in prison today.”
Pete Weatherby QC, of Garden Court North, who represents the families of 21 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, said about the cuts, “Since 1949, Legal Aid has enabled people to challenge injustice and protect their rights. It is vital that this public service is preserved.”
Last June Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, said that the two types of lawyers in the UK weren’t solicitors and barristers, but “lawyers who serve rich individuals and companies, and lawyers who serve ordinary citizens". Those who serve ordinary people “are under intense pressure from legal aid cuts”. Lord Neuberger went on “Good lawyers save money in and out of court because they are less likely to waste time and engender miscarriages of justice”. In 2011, a report commissioned by the Law Society (the Otterburn Report) showed that far from a ‘gravy train’, cuts in Legal Aid fees since 1996 mean small firms operate on a shoestring. If legal aid is cut further, as this government proposes, lawyers who work for the average citizen will disappear and the legal services market will be dominated by large companies that operate on economies of scale. The Co-op and Eddie Stobart are some of the companies that plan to provide large-scale, cut-rate legal services with a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
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