LegalVoice launch: ‘Be positive. Stay angry.’

LegalVoice (from left): Matt Howgate, Melanie O'Brien, David Gilmore, Vicky Ling and Jon Robins

‘The fight isn’t over,’ Lord Willy Bach, told guests at the formal launch of LegalVoice. There was always ‘substantial danger’ that following a fierce political battle ‘the world soon forgets the major issues of principle involved’. ‘This plays into the government’s hands who do not want reminding of embarrassing and outrageous decisions. Part of our task is to ensure that this does not happen.’

Labour’s former shadow justice minister paid tribute to the ‘pure hard graft’ of the ‘access to Justice’ lobby, notably Justice for All and the Law Society’s Sound off for Justice campaign, in fighting the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill (now Act).

Representatives from nearly all of the 31 groups listed on our community page attended the launch party at the Law Society. The campaign was a collective effort that ‘succeeded in getting much wider public interest than ever could have been expected’ in the esoteric issues surrounding legal aid, said Bach. It was not all doom and gloom though, the peer flagged up as ‘promising signs’ the emergence of new Law Centres in Ealing and Ipswich and (‘not least’) the appearance of a new obline magazine for the sector, LegalVoice.

 

David Gilmore, LV director (below), thanked Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, DPS Software, Freshfields, Lexis Nexis, Linklaters and the Law Society for ‘helping to make the launch event happen’. He also thanked the representative groups for their support.

Strangely silent
Lord Bach attacked the media (‘both print and broadcast’) who were ‘strangely silent from first to last’. ‘If they’d have shown just one tenth of the interest that they had shown in much less important matters, it could have made a difference.’

Bach pointed to the 14 defeats suffered by the government during the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords. Many peers ‘instinctively knew what was being proposed was wrong, immoral, a denial of access to justice and also counter-productive in financial terms,’ he said. ‘Many Tories and Lib Dems thought the same but very few followed their consciences.’ He paid tribute to the ‘incomparable’ Lord Newton of Braintree, the conservative peer who spoke out against LASPO but died before the Bill completed its passage through the Lords.

Inside Parliament, he said that there were battles to be won around the implementation of LASPO and the drafting of the regulations. He praised the not-for-profit sector and solicitors doing social welfare law calling them ‘unappreciated stars’.

‘Many are having to find ways of surviving,’ he said. ‘Survival is everything. Sometimes steps will be taken which seem unpalatable unpalatable to some. Attacks may be made from within the sector which will be music to the ears of government. Surely it is now more crucial than ever that we should support each other and that in spite of all the governments attempt to effectively destroy this area ensure that social welfare law practitioners can survive not for their own sake but for those that they serve.’ Of course, the pro bono community ‘plays an important part… but everyone, apart from the government, knows it can never be a substitute for properly funded legal aid.”

Lord Bach called for a concerted effort to persuade politicians that social welfare law ‘must be a key part of the civil legal aid system in the future’. ‘It is just not acceptable that the government can welcome and encourage multimillionaire foreign litigants to fight out their cases in our courts. Whilst the poor, the disabled can’t even get a bit of legal advice that may change their lives.’

Be positive
‘Not only does the passage of time take the heat off the government . It can also make us forget just how appalling piece of legislation LASPO, part 1 is. It isn’t just a technical mistake; it isn’t just a slight shift of policy; and isn’t just a party issue. It is a national disgrace. It should make us angry that any government, of whatever colour, can take away rights of access to justice from fellow citizens with such contemptible ease. In our response to LASPO, let us be together. Let us be positive but also let us remain angry.’

 

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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