Pressure continues over 'devastating' proposed legal aid cuts

By staff writers
7 Jun 2011

Civil rights, legal and community groups are continuing to press the government hard on its plans to cut legal aid and effectively deny justice to thousands of poor and vulnerable people.

Homeless, jobless and disabled people (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14675) are among those due to be hit hardest.

'Justice for All' (http://www.justice-for-all.org.uk/) campaigners from across the country took action on Friday 3 June, the Day of Action for free legal advice in England and Wales.

Activists took the streets in silent marches in Gloucester and Birmingham, Lady Godiva leading the way with Coventry politicians, seafront marches in Hastings and Eastbourne and rallies in London and Sheffield. Lady Justice grabbed the press' attention in Bristol, Havant and Trowbridge.

Thousands more signed petitions on the high-streets in Abergavenny, Harlow, Tunbridge Wells, Nuneaton and Newcastle, and a Wales-wide petition was launched.

In Newham they formed an orderly queue to see the MP, the only place many will have to turn if free advice agencies close.

In Pontyprydd, Totnes and Islington, open sessions and discussion were held to find out more about the valuable service advice agencies provide. Advice agencies in Brighton and Hove showed how vital advice is for people through a short video clip.

Many more individuals wrote to or met with their MP, wrote to their local newspapers and raised awareness on social media.

"Whatever the action, all were inspired by deeply held concerns about the impact on their community of legal aid cuts, combined with other threats to free legal advice," said Justice for All.

Nationally, Radio 5, The Guardian and The Times, the Law Society Gazette, The Solicitor's Journal, and The Charity Times picked up on the groundswell of concern across England and Wales about the Government's proposals which would cut the best value-for-money legal aid and target charities' services.

Local and regional press and radio highlighted the events, as many Lady Justices and action heroes took to the streets in their areas.

The Government is expected to announce plans to press ahead with "devestating" cuts to legal aid shortly, and concerned individuals and organisations are being encouraged to contact MPs about their concerns.

Refugee and asylum-seeker campaigners are also outraged by the way their clients are being denied access to justice.

Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green Party, commented: "I am extremely concerned about the proposed limits on cases eligible for legal aid support. Reducing legal aid will increase the hardship of many as well as proving to be a false economy."

She continued: "If people do not get the help they need at an early stage, their problems will worsen, and that increases demand on other public services, such as health and social care."

"For example, in 2009-2010, Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) resolved 93 per cent of their housing cases without needing to refer the client to the council to make a homelessness application," the Brighton Pavilion MP explained.

Ms Lucas concluded: "It is sadly predictable that the worst off will be hit hardest by these changes. It is essential that the government works to ensure that equal access to justice is guaranteed."

[Ekk/3]

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