by New Worker
PROTESTERS gathered outside the Old Bailey in London and Manchester Crown Court last Tuesday evening for a rally in defence of legal aid, organised by the Justice Alliance.
The group issued a statement of aims:
1. We are 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.
2. Legal aid, introduced in 1949, is a vital part of the UK justice system. It ensures that access to justice is not just for the rich and that there is equal justice for all. Legal aid is a cornerstone of our democratic tradition and the rule of law.
3. Any justice system needs to ensure: fair and equal access to justice for all; protection for vulnerable people; quality and effective legal representation; that the state is held to account; a right to legal aid and a duty upon the Government to provide it. We consider the proposed cuts and the cuts already experienced to be unjust, unnecessary and profoundly damaging.
4. The Government's proposals on legal aid will affect everyone and will have the following effects on those who cannot pay:
a) Remove your right to choose your own solicitor. You will be prosecuted by the state and defended by a lawyer selected and appointed by the state.
b) Quality, specialist legal defence will disappear. The removal of choice and the cuts in funding will mean you will be getting a service where the cheapest defence lawyers will get a legal aid contract. Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and Welsh language firms will not survive.
c) With the introduction of the residence test, many people would not be able to access the justice system at all; this will include babies in care proceedings, victims of domestic violence and people who have been trafficked into the UK.
d) Legal challenges to decisions made by the state and public authorities will be seriously undermined.
e) Prisoners will not have legal aid to make representations about vital issues like their treatment, rehabilitation and progress. They will be left to stagnate.
5. We will work as a Justice Alliance to promote national and local action to stop the government proposals and so protect legal aid as an essential part of access to justice.