death of justice
at 4.30 this afternoon, the rally outside the ministry of justice had already attracted a couple of hundred people, spilling right across the road outside. although 'petty france' isn't a very busy thoroughfare, a coach had to reverse back to find another route, and other vehicles turned around.
i couldn't help thinking that if this demo had comprised anarchists as opposed to besuited solicitors, the police would have quickly pushed people to the pavements. but for the lawyers, there wasn't a single policeman in sight.
among the speakers addressing the crowd were QCs geoffrey robertson, dinah rose, and michael fordham, as well as bianca jagger and reps from 'liberty' and 'reprieve'.
they outlined the likely damage that conservative justice minister chris grayling's plans would wreak on the legal system as cuts designed to save a couple of hundred million pounds will severely restrict legal aid, taking the rights of the poor, the dispossessed, immigrants and activists back to pre-magna carta levels .
chris grayling is the first non-lawyer for hundreds of years to hold the position of lord chancellor, and his proposals have attracted widespread condemnation from the legal profession, including a letter to the telegraph signed by 90 QCs, and a total of 13,000 responses to the consultation, confirmed by the ministry of justice today.
the previous government has already withdrawn much legal support to prisoners, but the new cuts will effectively end all prison legal aid except for a handful of situations.
free legal help has also already been curtailed in cases of welfare benefit advice and immigration, including deportation appeals. but now the government has set its sights on the criminal aid budget, and the plan is to introduce competition so that work goes to the cheapest bidder rather than a defendant's choice. this will see the total decline of specialism, as advisors with years of experience in particular aspects of law will lose all their work to 'mclawyers' contracted to companies like G4S or Serco.
the vast majority of consultation responses point out the likely miscarriages of justice that will no doubt follow these cuts, and the chance to challenge those miscarriages will become only a privilege of the rich.
justice should of course be equal for all, and grayling's ideas will effectively destroy that principle completely.
as the crowd grew to several hundred over the course of three hours, a couple of policemen turned up to keep an eye on things. no PLO (protest liaison officers) were spotted.
find out more about the campaign at www.defendtherighttoprotest.org
read the netpol lawyers consultation response (focussing on the tremendous repercussions of the these cuts on political activists) at http://netpol.org/2013/06/04/netpol-lawyers-group-the-attack-on-legal-aid-and-why-it-matters-to-activists/
and the socialist lawyers 'haldane' response is at http://www.haldane.org/news/haldanes-response-to-transforming-legal-aid.html/