I am not a lawyer.
However it is the grave concerns raised by Labour members both in the legal profession and in academia that have drawn my attention to these proposals.
Ensuring that everyone has access to legal representation is fundamental to a fair justice system. It is no accident that legal aid was part of the welfare state established by the Attlee government in 1949. Access to justice is fundamental to a fair society.
The difference between our legal aid system and the NHS is that we all know that at some point we are likely to need health care. Most people don’t expect to ever need legal aid.
There is a need to make savings in the legal aid budget. There is cross party consensus on this. However the most vulnerable in our society should not bear the brunt of the cuts.
Women are amongst the groups likely to suffer. Legal aid is now no longer available for most family law and the new qualification for a year’s residency means that vulnerable women migrants will not have access to the law. Women who have been trafficked for sexual and other forms of exploitation and cases to do with forced marriage or child exploitation will no longer qualify without residency.
The justice secretary Chris Grayling has proposed a new system where large businesses provide state legal representation.
This will not only mean the end for many small high street solicitors but also the beginning of some lucrative contracts for firms without a legal background, such Eddy Stobart.
That’s right, expertise in lorry freight is now transferrable to providing people with legal representation.
Last week 500 protestors mainly from the legal profession came out to protest. The protestors included Helena Kennedy and Sadiq Khan MP although not former solicitor Jonathan Evans, Cardiff North’s Conservative MP. He is expected to reenter the law profession when he steps down in 2015. He has retained several directorships including of the law firm Eversheds.
This should not be just an issue for lawyers. Neither is it an issue for MPs who used to be lawyers. This is an issue about equality. It is our job in the Labour Party to speak out for people who do not have a voice. No matter who you are and how much money you have you deserve a fair trial.
In the words of Martin Luther King, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’
Some further reading