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Protests against legal aid cuts today

From the Justice Alliance:

Today, the Justice Alliance marks a joint national day of action by barristers and solicitors against legal aid cuts with a demonstration.

A cross section of NGOs, trade unions, charities and grass roots organisations of the Justice Alliance (which include Amnesty UK, Liberty, Unite, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Children’s Society) join with the legal aid profession to highlight serious concerns with the cuts to prison law and proposals to change criminal law, introduce a Residence Test and limit access to judicial review.

The Justice Alliance believes the cuts will:

- Destroy the fabric of the justice system in England and Wales
- Lead to a dramatic rise in miscarriages of justice
- Undermine the principle of access to the courts for all
- Severely undermine the ability of individuals including victims of torture, victims of police abuse and victims of sexual grooming to hold the state to account.
- Damage the UK’s international legal reputation
- Destroy a value for money legal aid system, create knock-on costs of up to £47 million and lead to a long term waste of taxpayers’ money.

Matt Foot, solicitor and founder of Justice Alliance said: “There is widespread opposition to Grayling’s proposals. They will have a devastating effect on the rights of ordinary people in this country and undermine the ability to challenge unlawful government actions, which the success of Lewisham Hospital campaigners has shows is vital. No-one has stood up and supported these proposals. Even Grayling did not attend the debate in parliament.”

Sue Willman, human rights solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn said: “Do politicians understand that the main victims of the residence test will be the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK?  To name a few - clients who are disabled, have long term illnesses and mental health needs, pregnant women and children. Legal aid has been their safety net. ”

Details of today's demonstration are here

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Young Legal Aid Lawyers have a myth-buster leaflet on legal aid which you can find here.

As the Guardian reports, the government's proposals include:

- competitive tendering for a new generation of solicitors' contracts to represent defendants in police stations and magistrates courts.
- the removal of defendants' rights to choose their solicitor

Also
- prisoners who challenge their treatment in jail will no longer be entitled to legal aid.
- a residency test will exclude those with "little or no connection to this country" from receiving support for civil legal actions in England and Wales

and

- judicial reviews will become more difficult. Those cases deemed to have a less than 50% chance of success will no longer be funded through legal aid.

This leaflet from Young Legal Aid Lawyers explains these proposals in more details and how far the plans have progressed.

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