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

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.

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!

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
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

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!

Listen Again

A Letter to MPs

We have come across a deeply shocking piece of footage from 9th December student demonstration (See our “Home” page) that shows a very peaceful demonstration that the police cavalry charge into causing the crowd to turn ugly. It is clear to see from this footage that it was the police who provoked a violent reaction and not the demonstrators who were there intent on violence.

The police have always maintained that they came under sustained attack all day and that their response was proportionate. This footage was taken at around 3pm and shows otherwise and we would like your help to send it out to all the politicians in the UK.

Please could you
1. copy the email below, enter your contact information, add your own comments to the start of the letter and send it, with the link to the footage, to your MP – MP’s tend to ignore standard emails so please take a few minutes to add your own comments
2. If you are a student at university please send it to both the MP for your home constituency and the MP for your University accommodation constituency
3. Invite all of your friends to do the same

If you do not know who your MP is then go to this website http://findyourmp.parliament.uk
and type in your postcode. The contact details for your MP will then be displayed.

Dear MP

[Please insert own comments and contact information]

I have recently become aware of a disturbing piece of footage on YouTube that was filmed at around 3pm on 9th December at Broad Sanctuary in central London during the student demonstrations of that day.

The police have repeatedly reported that their policing of this demonstration was proportionate however those at the demonstration that day have consistently challenged the police’s account of events and stated that the violence was instigated by the police and not by the demonstrators. While they acknowledge, as is often the case, there were a small number of trouble makers amongst the demonstrators – they maintain that the vast majority of those attending that demonstration went to do so peacefully.

The footage (in the link below) shows a very peaceful demonstration in Broad Sanctuary, there is little pushing against the police lines (the pushing shown near the start of the clip occurs when the police drag Jody Mcintyre out of his wheelchair the first time) and the atmosphere appears to be quite relaxed. After some minutes a murmur can be heard to spread across the crowd and the camera turns to look up the road beyond the police cordon and there are in excess of 20 horses performing a military style cavalry charging into the crowd. Understandably the crowd react to this attack by mounted officers. Please take a few minutes to watch this footage.

http://parentsforrealjustice.org.uk/?p=40

I am shocked and disturbed to have seen our mounted British police officers charging into a peaceful demonstration with such ferocity. I believed that we lived in a democracy and not an oppressive police state as this footage would suggest we do. These are the kind of actions that we have come to expect from totalitarian states who our government are so quick to criticise and condemn for their poor human rights records in relation to public demonstrations and yet this is what has been witnessed on the streets of our capital city.

I would not only like to draw your attention to the actions of the police at that time but also to highlight that there were a large number of demonstrators arrested at that demonstration and a significant number of them have been charged with Violent Disorder, which means that the CPS believe that they went to that demonstration with the intention of committing violent acts. However as can be clearly seen in this footage the actions of these peaceful demonstrators changed dramatically when provoked by the police and I can’t help but question how many of those facing such charges would not be doing so had the police not acted so violently towards what was a relatively well behaved crowd.

I cannot see any justification for the action taken by the police at that time as shown in the footage and I would appreciate your comments on the matter.

Kind regards

Police Cavalry Charge Into Peaceful Protest

Watch as a peaceful protest suddenly explodes after a military style cavalry charge.

If you are as shocked as we are about this footage please download the letter to MPs, add your own comments (MP’s tend to ignore mass mailings if they are not personalised) and send it to your MP.

To find out who your MP is please go to http://findyourmp.parliament.uk

Please leave your comments.