Southall Black Sisters, as part of the Justice Alliance representing over 100 charities and organisations, today joined disabled ex-prisoner Daniel Roque Hall and Harriet Wistrich, lawyer for two women sexually abused by guards at Yarl’s Wood detention centre, to hand deliver a signed letter to Simon Hughes MP calling for an immediate halt to the legal aid cuts following the unanimous vote at the Liberal Democrats Party Conference that the changes should be stayed. We call on the Liberal Democrats to ensure the changes to legal aid, those that are still in the form of proposals and those that Chris Grayling has decided will be implemented, which now have no government mandate, are stayed.
Today marks the closure of two consultation papers on proposed changes to legal aid and judicial review. SBS is alarmed by the combined impact of these proposals, particularly in respect of the introduction of the residence test for civil legal aid and the government’s attempt to make it harder for NGOs and charities to use judicial review as a means of challenging unlawful decisions made by public bodies. Taken together, these measures represent a wholesale assault on the principle of the right of access to justice.
Not withstanding the recently announced limited concessions on legal aid in respect of the residence test, we remain concerned that the proposals will prevent substantial numbers of the poor and extremely vulnerable from accessing justice and protection. The government seeks to justify the judicial review proposals on the basis that campaigning groups are using the process as a campaigning tool and ‘delaying tactics’. But as a frontline advocacy organisation, we are concerned that the language used is misleading. The government is deliberately misrepresenting the work of NGOs and charities.
It is a cynical ploy aimed at preventing scrutiny of State abuse of power. The latest proposals will make it harder to obtain funding to bring judicial review claims, thus denying charities and NGOs without whom vulnerable groups often have no voice, the tools needed to hold state institutions to account for abuses of power and unlawful actions.
The Justice Alliance is an alliance of legal organisations, charities, community groups, grass roots and other campaigning groups, trade unions and individuals who are united in our opposition to the government’s proposed attack on legal aid and the criminal justice system. These legal aid proposals are part of the larger assault on essential parts of the welfare state. Visit: Justice Alliance #nomandatenocuts
Photo credits: Keryn Jalli