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.

Jennifer.

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!

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
Commander
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