Campaigning for legal aid
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  The Invisible, a new play by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is now showing at the Bush Theatre, London. The play is set against the background of unparalleled cutbacks in civil legal aid. LAG has produced a special publication jointly with the theatre to discuss the issues behind the play, a copy of which is in the July/August edition of  Legal Action magazine. An abridged version of this article appears in the LAG/Bush publication.   Within a few months of taking office in 2010 there were warnings from the coalition government that civil legal aid would be targeted for large cuts as part of the government’s austerity programme. In November 2010 the Ministry of Justice published a paper setting out its strategy to cut legal aid expenditure, the centre piece of which was to be new legislation to establish a much reduced civil legal aid scheme.   In response to the government’s plans the Justice for All (J4A) campaign was launched. J4A was a coalition of organisations including charities opposed to the civil legal aid cuts. Organisations as varied in political outlook and purpose as the trade union Unite and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI) played a prominent role in the campaign. WI members were particularly concerned about the impact of the proposed cuts in family law and restrictions on claiming legal aid in domestic violence cases.   Linda Lee, the then president of the Law Society, at a meeting in parliament in early 2011, told Jonathan Djanogly, the minister at the time responsible for legal aid, that she was “disappointed and heartbroken” as the government’s attack on civil legal aid “was an attack on the most vulnerable.” The Law Society poured cash into its own Shout Out for Justice Campaign which tried to highlight the impact of the cuts on clients, but this and the other campaigns against what became the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act met with only limited success.   Still reeling from the cuts to civil legal aid introduced by the LASPO Act. Chris Grayling, (Lord Chancellor prior to Michael Gove the current incumbent), announced further cuts to civil and criminal legal aid in October 2012. He also outlined plans for competitive tendering for criminal legal aid solicitors.   Grayling’s proposals provoked unprecedented fury and he quickly became a hated figure amongst criminal legal aid lawyers. He proposed fee cuts for both solicitors, who take on police station and criminal court cases, and the advocates, mainly barristers, who represent the accused before the courts in more serious cases.   In March 2014, in a protest dubbed Grayling Day, barristers and solicitors walked out of work and took to the streets to protest. This and other demonstrations against the criminal legal aid cuts have been organised by the campaign group the Justice Alliance, along with the practitioner organisations.   The sight of barristers in their wigs and gowns protesting, as well celebrity supporters such as the actress Maxine Peake, has helped raised the profile of the legal aid cuts. The Bar though, did a deal over advocates fees soon after the protests of March last year dividing opposition against the cuts. The protests have gone on and included a Magna Carter relay from Runnymede earlier this year organised by the Justice Alliance, ( the picture above shows Maxine Peake at a rally in central London which marked the end of the relay).   Michael Gove recently announced that he will continue with the tenders for police and magistrates duty work which were set in train by his predecessor. This policy could result in the loss of over half of the 1500 criminal legal aid firms. Criminal legal aid solicitors have also been hit with a further 8.75% fee cut from 1st July. In response both solicitors and barristers in many areas have organised a strike in protest at these measures.   Legal aid cuts can often be portrayed as a struggle between the lawyers and the government over pay, but if they cannot make a living, lawyers are eventually forced to walk away from the system. They leave behind people with no-where to turn. Lenkiewicz dramatises their stories in her play and they are the reason that LAG continues to campaign on access to justice.   Tickets for the play are available from the theatre. The show on 22nd July will be followed by a discussion about legal aid and access to justice.   The Bush has produced a short film about the play (see below).   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS72tYfGn0Y&list=PLM_bVvZ-NvDreCvWDHkNB9yuCyyx0oJyN

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Description: LAG
A national, independent charity, promoting equal access to justice for all members of society who are socially, economically or otherwise...