The birth of Legal aid
The 30th July 2013 marks the anniversary of the day the Legal Advice and Assistance Act 1949 came into force, the Act of Parliament that marked the beginning of the provision of legal aid in England and Wales. It is the anniversary of the day that the provision of free legal advice and representation to people who cannot afford to pay for a private lawyer and whose cases have merit became a cornerstone of the welfare state. Where previous schemes had operated on a charitable basis only, the Rushcliffe Committee report whose advice the Atlee government followed, recommended that free access to justice for people with a low income should be funded by the state. The report stated: “Many people of moderate means […] may suddenly find themselves in urgent need of help for this special purpose. In our view, people in this position should be able to get the help they need…”.
In fact the principles and values that inspire the provision of legal aid in order to ensure equality before the law can be traced back much further to the Magna Carta of 1215, which stated “we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right”.
A party and a protest
The Justice Alliance, an umbrella group of organisations opposed to the Coalition government’s plans to ‘transform’ legal aid has called for 30th July to be a day of action across England and Wales aimed at celebrating legal aid and protesting against the government’s plans. In London, an event is being planned from 4.30pm, outside the Old Bailey. Please save the date and clear your diaries to make this the biggest, loudest and most publicised show of opposition to government’s plans that will effectively dismantle legal aid as a pillar of the welfare state, by preventing the most vulnerable people in our society from being able to enforce their rights, destroying the quality of the criminal defence, and making public bodies less accountable for their actions!
The Justice Alliance
This newly formed umbrella group brings together legal organisations, charities, community groups, grass roots and other campaigning groups, trade unions and individuals who oppose the government’s plans to change legal aid. So far some 12 partners have joined the movement, including Liberty, Amnesty International, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA), the Howards League for Penal Reform, Defend the Right to Protest. Many more are expected to join over the coming weeks and months as the campaign against the legal aid changes gathers momentum and coordination.