Lawyers and barristers gather in Islington following walk out over legal aid cuts
PUBLISHED: 16:54 06 January 2014 | UPDATED: 16:54 06 January 2014
An Islington lawyer has blasted the government's "savage" cuts to legal aid as "unsustainable" amid a national day of protest as lawyers refused to work.
Cllr Greg Foxsmith, a freelance criminal defence lawyer, said: “Obviously we have to be careful with taxpayers’ money, but the British sense of fairness means people want there to be a level playing field [in legal representation].”
Nearly 300 London lawyers attended a training event today at Islington Assembly Hall in support of the strike, many after protesting against cuts to legal aid outside Westminster Court this morning.
Mr Foxsmith, an independent councillor for Hillrise ward, explained that the training session was in solidarity with the national protests, organised as a genuine training event as lawyers cannot go on strike.
He said: “We took today’s action to challenge the lies and spin of the government. Today’s protest demonstrates what court could be like every day once there are few, if any, firms left to practice Legal Aid. People being in court with no one to represent them, or no one to represent them well.
“Of course the people introducing the cuts would say that the legal aid lawyers are just trying to line their own pockets, but there have been consecutive cuts for 20 years, it’s unsustainable.
“The profession is greying, and we’re not getting the young recruits anymore. Eventually there’ll be a point where it has to stop.”
The free training session, organised by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) where Cllr Foxsmith is a committee member, saw many lawyers having to stand as the event was so popular.
Today’s national protest saw dozens of courts across the country inundated with protestors, including the Old Bailey and Southwark crown court. At many courts, only cases involving vulnerable children and adults went ahead. At the Old Bailey, only one of the 18 courts held a trial.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling is planning to cut legal aid by up to 30 per cent, aiming to save £220 million a year. Protestors say the cuts will leave millions of people with “no access to justice.”
Under the new proposals, prisoners who challenge their treatment in jail will be refused access to legal aid, and judicial reviews deemed less than 50 per cent likely to win will not be helped through the scheme.
The LCCSA’s campaign ‘Justice for sale’ is appealing for donations to fight the proposals, which have been slammed by shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan MP who said he “worries about the consequences.”
It is the first time in the profession’s history that lawyers have refused to work, bringing barristers and solicitors together to protest the proposed legal aid cuts.
Cllr Foxsmith is a long-time campaigner for civil rights and court justice, as the Islington Gazette reported back in April when he resigned from the Liberal Democrats amid controversy over proposed ‘secret courts’.