Saturday, 15 January 2011

Justice for All

On Wednesday the launch of Justice for All was held in Westminster. This group launched in response to the reforms of the legal aid system proposed by the coalition government. The Justice for All campaign aims to ensure that the principles of legal aid, enshrined when they were set out in 1949, are maintained, especially as the coalition’s tough austerity package bites in 2011.

This a fast growing coalition of over 1300 legal and advice agencies, politicians, trade unions, community groups and members of the public. My Trade union Unite is also a member of this campaign.

The coalition government are planning to cut legal aid by £350 million, the Green Paper proposes cutting legal aid funding for advice on debt, education, employment, housing, family, immigration, welfare benefits and some other areas.

These cuts will effect the poorest citizens the hardest, restricting access to legal services. It is clear, for example, early access to legal advice makes debt advice much more effective and easier to be solved.

Why should an employer have access to legal support yet a low paid worker have no access to legal advice in employment tribunals, this would clearly be unfair!

Why should vulnerable tenants not have legal services against a landlord who is harassing them?

With complicated welfare cases, again legal services are required, if they are not, how can vulnerable people understand the complexity against professionals in appeals?

It is clear that people in real need and do not understand the processes and practices and have to counter skilled practitioners will have their access to justice severely restricted, in the age of austerity this is handing more power to the powerful at the cost of the powerless.

The Mendip Citizen Advice Bureau was at the launch on Wednesday to lobby our MPs for Justice for All.

There is in parliament an Early Day Motion 1194 ;

That this House welcomes the Justice for All campaign launched in the House of Commons on 12 January 2011; supports the aims of the campaign which are to raise awareness of the vital importance of advice and representation on legal matters for the most vulnerable in our society and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are, how much money they have or where they live; recognises that the strength of feeling is reflected in the fact that the campaign is a broad coalition of legal and advice agencies, trades unions, charities, community groups and members of the public; regrets that the reduction in spending on legal aid, through restrictions in scope and eligibility and the blanket 10 per cent. cut in the lower fee paid to providers of legal services, is having a detrimental effect on access to justice and on the well-being of the most vulnerable people; questions the real cost savings to the public purse that this budget reduction will achieve, given that early advice on legal matters saves money by keeping families together in their homes, and in work and education; believes that free, independent advice and representation on legal matters is essential to achieve justice for all; and calls on the government to rethink the provision of legal services for the poorest in society.

I hope our MP can sign this motion, because Justice should be for All.

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