One of the speakers at yesterday’s Rally for Legal Aid was “Sally” – the mother of a rape victim, as the flyer for the rally described her. For understandable personal (and legal) reasons Sally asked not to be photographed or recorded. But after the rally she kindly agreed to let me have the text of her speech. Here’s what Sally said outside the Old Bailey yesterday.
In 2005, my fifteen year old daughter woke me up at 3am and told me that she had been raped.
Her attacker was 29 years old.
We waited twelve weeks for an arrest to be made.
My daughter went on with the case because she knew that the police and prosecution had evidence that proved the defendant was lying.
What she didn’t know was that before the trial the police had lost this evidence. And that the trial was doomed to fail her.
The police failures were called “a disgrace” by the trial judge.
And so my daughter’s rapist went un-convicted and was free to rape another young girl.
As for us; we wanted answers. We didn’t understand how this could have happened. We thought she was safe in their hands.
But what could I do?
I was, and am, an ordinary woman. My husband drove a taxi. I looked after my children. We had enough money to live on. But not money to pay for lawyers to fight cases over laws I knew nothing about.
We managed, with the help of Women Against Rape, to find a legal aid lawyer who specialised in actions against the police.
There are not many who do this specialist work, and if these cuts come in there will be fewer.
Over 6 years we did a number of cases to show what happened to my daughter was not just wrong, but illegal. We got officers disciplined for misconduct, we got an apology from the DPP. We brought a claim to show that the police have a legal duty to properly investigate rape.
We also did a risky judicial review – something that these cuts would prevent happening – which resulted in a High Court judge saying that it was likely that had the mistakes not been made by the police, my daughter’s rapist would probably have been convicted.
In some ways, that acknowledgment by the judge in the judicial review was the most important one, as it vindicated what we had been saying all along.
We had a really strong legal team who were not going to give up, no matter what the police threw at us. And they threw a lot at us.
But if it hadn’t been for legal aid, I wouldn’t have been able to fight at all.
Much of the legal work done was new territory and there was no way of knowing if we would win.
Legal aid meant my daughter could get some form of justice and acknowledgement for the pain and suffering she has had to endure.
It has shown her that she can stand up to anyone if they let her down, even the state.
This case wasn’t for my daughter really, nothing was going to change the fact that her rapist walked free.
But she did it for all the victims of rape who will come after her.
That’s really why I am standing here today. Because it is people like me and my daughter that the changes in legal aid will really hurt.
Legal aid means that ordinary people like my daughter have a voice. If these changes come in, it will silence this voice.
Please don’t let this happen. We should celebrate what legal aid does for us and fight to protect it.
This isn’t about lawyers, it’s about ordinary people like my daughter.