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 – http://bit.ly/MancLAprotest
A5 flier – http://bit.ly/10ZCAYh
A4 Poster – http://bit.ly/103Nk9g
A3 Poster – http://bit.ly/YM2wu4

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!

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