Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘The vital role of legal aid cannot be underestimated in the current climate. More than ever the integrity of the rule of law will be at stake. There will be no mechanism for those of lesser means to benefit from equality before the law without legal aid.
‘The clients I represent are some of the most disenfranchised and powerless in society: children in prison. They need legal aid to make sure that their rights are not completely abused, to make sure that they spend the shortest possible time in custody, to ensure that the parole process works and that they have somewhere safe to live when they come out. Legal aid is crucial in making this happen.
‘Already we are seeing social workers suddenly made redundant or the release packages that are crucial to their safe rehabilitation in the community suddenly not available. This can mean these children’s lives, and taxpayers’ money, are wasted by children spending unnecessary time in jail.’
‘The comprehensive spending review has spelt out a new era where the weakest in our society have now restricted rights. With cuts to local authorities, law centres and citizens advice bureaux are set to lose vital funds that enable them to educate people about their rights. Coupled with the threat that the Ministry of Justice will announce a withdrawal or at the very least a reduction in access to legal aid, and in particular social welfare aid, this means that the voice of the ordinary citizen is being silenced.
‘Enabling all to seek justice is the only way that powerful institutions and people can be held accountable. As our economy is set to enter a renewed phase of recession, as over a million people lose their jobs, their homes and their welfare support, now, more than ever, it is crucial that we start to fight back and salvage legal aid and advice out of the cuts bonfire before the fire is lit.’
‘The importance of legal aid as a mechanism by which to hold state bodies to account is perhaps most apparent when representing victims of police violence. Where the perpetrator of an offence is a serving police officer, a victim can’t just walk into a police station and report the officer as having committed a crime. Instead, there is a long and arduous complaints process, with investigations conducted by other officers. Appeals are taken to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a third of whose investigators are former police officers, and complaints are rarely upheld. When complaints are substantiated it is almost unheard of that officers are prosecuted.
‘In these circumstances the only means by which to hold the police to account is by bringing an action in the civil courts. Given these immense and frequently bewildering challenges, the provision of legal aid throughout the process is vital to victims. Shockingly, it was recently revealed that the Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson secretly lobbied the government to place police officers above the law under the guise of saving costs.’
‘We need to remind ourselves that at the end of the second world war, when much of our infrastructure was destroyed, resources were scarce and debt reached 250 per cent of GDP, it was still possible to construct a vision of social justice – the welfare state. Two of the main pillars were the National Health Service and a national legal welfare service. Since then the NHS has expanded massively with spending in the region of £100 billion (rightly so), whereas legal aid has lagged well behind on under £2 billion per annum.’
Michael Mansfield QC, human rights lawyer
‘The UK has a powerful democracy demonstrated by the combination of our legal system and the unwritten constitutional guarantee that abuses of power by the state will not go unchecked. Judicial review exists to check such abuses. When UK soldiers brutally beat Baha Mousa to death in Iraq, judicial review forced the MoD to hold a public inquiry. That inquiry is examining how it came about that the techniques banned by the Heath government following internment in Northern Ireland (hooding, stress positions, sleep, food and water deprivation etc) came back as standard operating procedure in Iraq.
‘Those and other abuses of power will always remain unchecked if not for the combination of civil legal aid and judicial review. One without the other simply will not work. How could Colonel Mousa, Baha’s father, have afforded to pay his lawyers’ fees and those of the MoD if his case, taken all the way to the House of Lords in June 2007, had lost? Yet it is precisely this threat that we now face.
‘Unnamed sources at the MoJ are putting it about that human rights lawyers are “abusing the system”. What this really means is that there are those in the dark corridors of power at the MoD who have much to lose if the nation learns how many Iraqis were killed or tortured in UK custody.’
‘It is tempting now to think that there was a time when legal aid fulfilled the aspirations of the 1945 Labour government. There has never been a golden age. Legal aid has never been adequately funded and there have always been limits on its scope, which have denied justice to many. Yet access to justice is fundamental to our social well being and access to justice demands a level playing field, which is impossible without legal aid. In the current state of the legal system, cutting legal aid deprives the impecunious of the means to secure their rights under the law.’
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
How can the heavily-armed Israeli state claim to be victimised by one teenage activist? By Richard Seymour.
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism