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Lawyers defeat Tories' unjust legal aid cuts
Paul Heron, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers executive committee (personal capacity)
Justice Secretary Michael Gove made a complete u-turn on cuts to legal aid at the end of January.
He has scrapped plans for a two-tier contract system, and suspended an 8.75% cut to payments for criminal law solicitors. The victory has effectively prevented the closure of up to 1,000 law firms and saved jobs. But most importantly, it will undoubtedly prevent miscarriages of justice.
Central to the victory was criminal lawyers withholding their labour, refusing new cases in protest. The campaign which forced the climbdown was the work of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association. It also involved rank-and-file lawyers pressuring the leadership of the Criminal Bar Association to support the massive anger in the profession.
The campaign garnered support from all sectors of the legal profession, including those who were victims of 'British justice'. Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four and Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, wrongfully convicted of IRA pub bombings. And Raphael Rowe of the M25 Three, wrongfully convicted of robbery and murder.
This retreat arrived only weeks after a rally of 400 organised by the Justice Alliance. The rally heard Jeremy Corbyn describe access to legal aid as a human right.
It also followed a consultation involving 16,000 responses which spelt out loud and clear that the Tories' disastrous scheme would deny access to justice for ordinary people. The Tories ploughed on regardless as always, but have now been called to account.
Members of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers played a key role during the dispute. We called for united, escalating strikes against the attack. This, along with pending litigation, brought the battle to a successful conclusion.
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