Yesterday’s legal aid rally outside the Old Bailey saw hundreds of lawyers, charities and campaigners gathering to protest against the Government’s proposed cuts to legal aid. The rally was attended by a number of barristers and staff members from Chambers.
Yesterday, hundreds of lawyers, charities and campaigners took part in a rally for legal aid outside the Old Bailey. Organised by the Justice Alliance, the rally, attended by a number of barristers and staff members from Chambers, involved a wide variety of speakers who delivered an array of stirring speeches and calls to action. The afternoon also included music and poetry from the London Youth Gospel Choir and Zita Holbourne of BARAC UK respectively. The rally was a demonstration against the cuts to legal aid that the Government has proposed which would, if carried out, leave many people without sufficient access to justice.
The rally was held 64 years to the day after the Legal Aid and Assistance Act was introduced and so the demonstration was a celebration of legal aid as well as a call to action for its protection. This sentiment was summed up by Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, who stated that she was there to “celebrate legal aid, not to mourn its death.”
Shauneen Lambe, founder and director of Just for Kids, stated that she was “scared to live in a world where only the rich can access justice.” Similar sentiments were echoed by Matthew Foot, who is a criminal defence solicitor at Birnberg Pierce.
One of the most moving speeches came from a woman known as “Sally”, whose name was changed to protect the anonymity of her daughter. Sally’s daughter was 15 when she was raped, and police blunders resulted in crucial evidence being lost and her daughter’s alleged rapist walking free. “If it hadn’t been for legal aid,” Sally stated, “I wouldn’t have been able to fight at all … It is people like me and my daughter that the changes in legal aid will really hurt. Legal aid means that ordinary people like my daughter have a voice.”
The group outside the Old Bailey heard from a number of other people whose lives have been directly impacted by access to legal aid. At one point during the rally, a letter was read from Billy Power, a member of the Birmingham Six, who stated that “It would have been impossible, under the new proposal, for us to have obtained such hard-working lawyers … we would never have had our day in court to clear our names.”
In the shadow of the country’s most famous criminal court, the mood was one of determination and positivity. The rally ended with a call to direct action and it was clear that this was only the beginning of the fight to preserve access to legal aid for all.