Legal Aid

Legal aid, many happy returns

PUBLISHED September 25, 2013

Several hundred people assembled opposite the Old Bailey on the afternoon of 30 July. They were celebrating the 64th birthday of legal aid, marking the anniversary of the passing into law of the 1949 Legal Aid Act.

At the same time, of course, they were making the point that legal aid provision must not be decimated through government reforms.

In contrast to recent public gatherings, this was not a collection of lawyers. Both solicitors and barristers were present; but, on this occasion, they were joined by equal numbers representing trade unions, campaign groups and, crucially, many people who have benefited from the services of legal aid specialists.

Leroy Skeete and Raphael Rowe, one imprisoned beyond the length of his sentence and the other imprisoned wrongly, both spoke with passion of how, without legal aid lawyers, they would not have been released from prison to lead fulfilling and valuable lives, Leroy as a youth mentor and Raphael as a television journalist. Two mothers spoke, one whose seriously disabled son would certainly have died in prison had not a specialist lawyer come to his aid and one whose daughter, a rape victim, turned to legal aid lawyers in her campaign for redress.

Shami Chakrabati of Liberty addresses the demonstrationThere were impassioned speeches from MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, Shami Chakrabati of Liberty, Shauneen Lambe of Just for Kids Law and Helen Shaw of Inquest, while Sarah Kray of UK Uncut pointed out how legal aid is only one part of the welfare provision that is being unravelled by government policies.

But this was a birthday party as well as a protest: a huge birthday cake was cut, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday? and "When I?m 64? and was entertained by the London Youth Gospel Choir and singers Tom Robinson and Adeola, as well as the performance poet Zita Holbourne and the comedian Josie Long. The links were provided with effortless charm by actress and comedian Kate Smurthwaite.

Matt Foot, of the Justice Alliance, which organised the event, rounded off the celebration/protest by promising that the fight against Grayling?s proposals would go on and that the battle would be won. The rally itself received excellent coverage in the media. Congratulations to, among others, Matt Foot, Rhona Friedman and Jonathan Black for all their work.