Saving Legal Aid – 17th june 2013



In Manchester now, there is a movement the likes of which is rarely seen – PCS union members who work in the court system have joined with lawyers, activists and members of the community to fight the proposed changes to the legal system.

The changes that are proposed are no small and innocuous administrative changes – the proposals from all sides are akin to Dr Beaching’s plans with the natural railways, with a mix of Thatcher thrown in. They include amongst a long list, the privatisation of court services, the removal of access to legal aid for many and the massive restriction of access to judicial review – the main way to challenge the government’s attacks.

These are some of the many reasons that the PCS had called for strike action. This is why the lawyers are fighting.  This is why members of the community are gathering together to fight.

Press Release! – Say No To Legal Aid Reform! – Protest, Tuesday 21st May

The Ministry of Justice has put forward a plan to reform the Criminal Legal Aid system. Their plans include the removal of the ability for a defendant to choose their own lawyers, it removes the principal of competition on quality rather than cost and it lays out a roadmap for quartering the number of legal aid firms and decimating the sector, while also pushing for massive companies like Serco, G4S, Atos and Eddie Stobart to join the legal sector.

These changes will be devastating to the legal aid sector, and will lead to not only a loss of skill, but also a loss of justice. The removal of a client’s choice of solicitor means the removal of specialist firms and solicitors from the sector – complex cases such as computer crimes, protest situations and allegations of fraud will become harder to defend. Harder to defend not because of any new wave of evidence, but because the skills and understandings that are required to put forward a good defense have been drained from the niche firms that will disappear if only a few of the recommendations in the Ministry’s document go forward. Leaving the only skilled people in those areas either in paid-for defense firms or the halls of the Crown Prosecution service – truly unbalancing Liberty’s carefully balanced scales. The loss of choice and its inevitable impact on available specialists for clients with mental health issues, special needs and very young clients (12/13 yrs or younger) will have a devastating impact on some of the most vulnerable in our society.

On the day of the Ministry Of Justice’s consultation in Manchester, we are preparing a response to these plans. We are coming together, rallying, and marching on their consultation. Among the speakers will be lawyers Robert Lizar and Peter Weatherby and Jennifer Hilliard – the mothers of two of the many protesters who would have likely been in prison if these reforms were in place for their trials (Chris and Andrew Hilliard). We will hear about the direct impact of the plans from the lawyers facing them. And we will be hearing from people who would have felt the cuts the hardest – the innocent clients that needed and received a good defense.

Our rally outside of Manchester Crown Court at 4:20 on the 21st of May, followed by our march at 5pm to the Palace Hotel in time to answer their consultation at 5:30 is our reply. With a solid voice, composed of many, declaring the community’s answer to the consultation questions together with a simple answer – No To Criminal Legal Aid Reforms!

The Facebook event –
A5 flier –
A4 Poster –
A3 Poster –

A Personal Perspective on Legal Aid Reforms

We all hear the words “Legal Aid” banded about and we hope that we never need to use it, but what
do we really know about it and about the proposed changes to it? It was introduced as part of the
Legal Advice and Assistance Act 1949 by Attlee’s post-war Labour government. It was a direct result
of the recommendations of the Rushcliffe Committee to Parliament. The fundamental principle was
that Legal Aid would be available in all courts and in such manner that it would enable persons in
need to have access to the professional help they require.

This principle is now under threat by the changes that are proposed to criminal legal aid. Today
if you need a lawyer, you can appoint one of your own choosing or have one appointed for you. If
these proposals are accepted, you will have a lawyer appointed for you and you will not be able to
change that lawyer except under certain rare circumstances. You will not have the option to choose
a lawyer that has expertise or experience with your type of case. Instead you will be allocated one
on an arbitrary basis that is yet to be determined. You might be forgiven for wondering why this is a
problem as you will still get legal representation so let me explain, from my experiences, why this is
such a bad move.

I am the mother of two sons who were arrested at the student demonstrations against the rise in
tuition fees on 9th December 2010. They were accused of pulling a police officer off his horse and
charged with Violent Disorder which carries a maximum prison sentence of 5 years. After two trials
and 17 months later both boys were unanimously acquitted in under 2 hours at the end of a two
week trail.

The choice of a specialist law firm was crucial to the process of building their defence and to
tracking down the evidence needed for the defence case. A total of 11 police officers gave witness
statements for the prosecution and because of this we were warned that it would “very difficult
case” to win. Not only were the boys lawyers (Bindmans) fantastic and willing to go the extra mile
but because they specialise in protest cases we were contacted by support groups through them.
One of these groups (Legal Defence and Monitoring Group) helped us appeal for witnesses and
uncovered a critical piece of video footage that showed the mounted officer attacking the boys from
behind without provocation.

The barristers who represented the boys were selected based on their specialist knowledge and
experience in this type of case and great care was taken by Bindmans in selecting them. A choice
these changes will take away. The future under the proposals would not have any specialist lawyers
or barristers working on legal aid cases because the random allocation of cases would not allow
expertise to be developed or specialist experience to be gained.

Another law firm, allocated the case based on costs, may well have advised my sons to plead guilty,
because it would be more profitable to them and because of the difficulties of the case. We would
never have uncovered the witnesses we found or the video evidence and my sons would have
been left with no defence and no option but to plead guilty to an offence they did not commit. The
proposed cuts in fees payable to legal representatives will undoubtedly encourage the use of “in
house” barristers or of solicitor advocates rather than the specialist barristers who for example had
equestrian experience in our case.

The proposed changes to criminal legal aid represent a move towards conveyor belt justice with
lawyers being allocated on a cost basis with no choice for the defendant while drastically cutting the
fees payable to legal representatives.

Will the proposals save money? On the face of it, almost certainly. However, the bigger question
is will they still deliver justice? Undoubtedly the answer is no as we will see the legal profession
decimated and defendants poorly represented in all but the easiest cases to defend, resulting in
shaky convictions and an increase in appeals.

I believe that if these proposed changes had been in place when my sons were arrested and
they had not been able to choose the law firm to represent them they would not only have been
convicted of a serious offence but they would now be in prison.

This is not justice.


Defend The Right To Protest in Manchester

Yesterday saw yet another step in the growing campaign to defend the right to protest, with its first Manchester meeting.


Manchester has become a melting pot of the latest wave of protesters and activists, from the spearheading of anti-workfare protests to the massively strong Manchester UK Uncut group – all of which have been harassed, arrested, and a few attacked violently. With laws such as the much abused “Aggravated Trespass” law through to arresting someone for an astrixed out word (that may or may not have been an obscenity). It’s been clear for a while that the Metropolitan Police are not the only ones who are trying their hardest to deter peaceful protest.


The meeting, held at the Friends Meetinghouse in Manchester, included such speakers as; Dannie Grufferty (VP NUS) Jennifer Hilliard (Mother of Student Defendants), Steph Pike (UK Uncut) and Rachel from Defend The Right To Protest, covering a huge range of issues (from international police brutality to an arrestee’s rights).


The culmination of this is that we will be starting a Manchester chapter of Defend The Right To Protest, and working with as many groups as possible to defend our right to PARTY! Protest!

We ARE All Alfie Medows

Many know of the story of Alfie Medows – a student who went to protest both the rise in tuition fees and the closure of his department at university at Parliament on the 9th of December over a year ago, in 2010, who was hit so hard with a baton over the head by the police that he suffered a brain injury that needed immediate surgery.


Many people also know that as soon as he put in an Independent Police Complaint with the Commission, the Metropolitan Police immediately retaliated by arresting, charging and stop-and-searching Alfie as a form of intimidation and a desperate attempt to validate their actions – desperately, like a childhood bully, trying to find a way to say “He did it first!”. Something that we are sure that, like many others, they cannot and will not do.


But he needs your support and help in this dark time. We need people to realise that We Are All Alfie Medows – we are all in danger of being beaten and arrested for peacefully protesting. We are all in danger of our very lives being threatened, rapidly followed by the loss of our liberty, for standing up for what we believe in.


All we ask is that you go Here, download the “We Are All Alfie Medows” or the “Justice For Alfie Medows – Drop The Charges Now” file, print it off, have your photo taken with it and email it to Defend The Right To Protest.


Oh, and if you want to, come along to the protest outside the Kingston Crown Court on Monday 26th March.


P.S. Sorry for the lack of posts – court and legal issues, as well as many other things, have conspired against us. We hope to be posting more frequently again!

Steph Pike, Manchester’s Pre-Crime Victim

Court support for Steph Pike

Steph Pike was in court today, giving a strong plea of Not Guilty against a crime that should never be a crime – peaceful and unobstructive protesting as part of Manchester’s UK Uncut group, a group formed to raise awareness of corporate tax dodging and help push forward other possibilities than the massive and deep cuts that we all face. This is a group that not only has the highest calling, but also has shown again and again that it can protest peacefully and sensibly with the support of the public.

Steph, however, was arrested and charged, not with what she was lead to believe was aggravated trespass, a charge she could easily defend against with it’s fairly ridged structure, even with it’s wide open wording, but with a far more worrying crime, a pre-crime as it were:

“Failure to comply with a direction to leave when the police have reasonable belief that you may commit aggravated trespass”

Broken down, this means that:

1) She failed to move on a police order (not illegal on its own unless under specific circumstances)

2) That the police had reasonable belief that a crime of aggravated trespass was to be committed

The idea of a police officer having the power to move you on from a protest on the basis that a serious crime is in danger of occurring (i.e. a riot) does not seem too unreasonable – however this law is far from that. This law, which is punishable by upto three months in prison, is if you are in danger of “ obstructing or disrupting a lawful activity” – a far cry from the violence and terror of a riot or other serious crime.

And what did she do, you ask? She stood in a bank window, wearing a suit with a sign saying “FAT CAT BANKERS”. Is this kind of public conscience rasing work what we want to be criminalising as a socity? Much less with a possible three month prison sentence.

UK Uncut

Read more at Defend The Right To Protest about this case

The aggravated trespass law

The action in question - standing in a window, now a precursor to a crimeThe action in question – standing in a window, now a precursor to a crime

Charlie Gilmore Released On Curfew

We, as I am sure many feel, are relieved that one more person is lucky enough to be released on a home detention curfew, also known as ‘tagging’, where he can be looked after by his parents and helped to recover not just from the prison experience but also the media coverage.

What many people seem to forget, however, is that while he did, indeed admit to two out of the three counts of Violent Disorder, he did not with the third – it was a judge’s ruling on a basis of probability that he had committed the act – a far cry from the high bar of “beyond reasonable doubt” and a jury that we usually hold for such offences.

Hence, the sentence that he was handed down from the height of a judges gavel was a third too long. A third, that thankfully he will not have to serve alone.

Welcome back to the world, Charlie.

Read more about his release in the Independent Online

Intimidation and Harassment by The Metropolitan Police

With a national day of major action upon us, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts’ 9th November protest, the Metropolitan Police have gone too far – beyond Mrs May’s authorization to use potentially lethal ammunition. The Met Police have started a new wave in their campaign of harassment and intimidation towards protesters, with a message delivered directly through the front door of known protesters:

The Metropolitan Police Service is responsible for policing the protest organised by National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

In the interest of public safety we are working hard with event organizers, partner agencies, utilising all available intelligence, to reduce opportunities for crime and disorder to be committed.

It is in the public and your own interest that you do not involve yourself in any type of criminal or anti-social behaviour. We have a responsibility to deliver a safe protest which protects residents, tourists, commuters, protesters and the wider community. Should you do so we will at the earliest opportunity arrest and place you before the court.

A criminal conviction could impact on employment and educational opportunities, your ability to travel and applications for insurance cover.

If you are near an outbreak of violence move away and create distance between yourself and those taking part. Do not stand and watch as it may not be safe to do so.

Yours sincerely,
Simon Pountain
Metropolitan Police Service
Public Order Command

This letter is a threat and constitutes harassment – it threatens witnesses of police actions with harm (“Do not stand and watch as it may not be safe to do so”) and it seems to have the sole purpose of intimidating peaceful protesters, as this was not only sent out to people who have been found guilty or accepted a caution (although that would still constitute harassment), but to people who are in court, on bail, have had no further action and even found innocent.

This action is entirely reprehensible in both it’s form and it’s intent, and it shows that the police have no intention of peaceful policing of a peaceful protest.

Maybe they should stop listening to 10cc

A Metropolitan Police Intimidation Tactic - a harassment letter
Click to view the letter

Parents For Real Justice are taking over the airwaves with POET!

Parents For Real Justice campaigners Jennifer Hilliard and Chris have once again been on the local All FM (96.9fm in Manchester) on the Under The Pavement radio show, this time with an update on Parents For Real Justice and a callout for help with a project we like to call POET – listen now to find out more!

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