Outside the Ministry of Justice on “Grayling Day” on Friday, I spoke to Gemma Burns of Thomas Bingham Chambers, who feels “absolutely passionately” about opposing the government’s legal aid policy, because
it means injustice for all.
She told me that
if people can’t afford to pay for themselves, and there’s no access to properly qualified barristers … then they may end up having to represent themselves. That’s just not fair.
and she was concerned about the impact of self-representation on the criminal courts:
That’s going to increase costs to the criminal courts, because that’s going to increase time, delays … we need to be properly supported – and we’re not.
She surprised me with her confidence about the chances of further action shifting the government, and she was clearly up for further action.
The message needs to be sent loud and clear, as it is today, that this can’t go on. The courts can’t run without our assistance.
Hannah Evans was recently made a tenant at her chambers, 23 Essex Street. But, she told Friday’s “Grayling Day” demonstration on Friday,
clouding the entire experience was the knowledge that I might not be able to do the job I love for very long at all.
She expressed her concern about the diversity of the bar after the government’s legal aid cuts, and about its very future,
The bar will be destroyed from the bottom up, and with the destruction of the bar comes the destruction of the criminal justice system
She made the connection between the financial difficulties young barristers face, and what she fears will be systemic collapse:
We know the system, and we know how it will buckle. We care passionately about upholding it, that’s why we are all here today and not at court. It’s not about the money, though I for one am unashamed to ask for a fair wage for the work that I do.
Laura Janes of the Howard League for Penal Reform spoke at London’s “Grayling Day” demonstration on Friday, about cuts to prison legal aid specifically.
Mr Grayling has removed most prison law work from legal aid entirely
That means mothers cannot get legal help to remain with their babies inside prison; that means that people who are eligible to move to open conditions … will face the parole board alone; that means that children who have been granted early release because they have made great progress will not be able to get out of jail, because they have got no to go to, and no lawyer to help them get a home and make a fresh start.
She attacked Chris Grayling’s attitude to prisoners, and what she clearly sees as his complacency:
Mr Grayling says quite clearly that he does not believe they should have access to legal aid for no other reason than that they are prisoners … he says that children and mentally ill prisoners can rely on the complaints system despite overwhelming evidence that it is not fit for purpose
She also mentioned judicial review proceedings currently being pursued by the Howard League against these cuts.
At Friday’s “Grayling Day” demonstration in London, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association Nigel Lithman QC told the audience that
an indispensable part of our democracy is the criminal justice system. It’s taken centuries to build; it is taking this government a blink of an eye to demolish.
It’s difficult, he said,
to imagine how any more damage can be done to this system; and the whole system is in revolt as to what is happening. To destroy one part of the legal system may be regarded as a misfortune; to destroy all of them looks like carelessness.
He attacked the Ministry of Justice, which he said was “inept”, “not fit for purpose” and “an embarrassment”. In contrast he said the criminal bar was ”the most restrained” profession in Britain.
For us to take to the streets and close the courts – all cannot be well.
He also hinted at the justification for further action:
We are being shown no good will. So we will respond – and we too will show no good will.