The ‘Grayling Day’ demo – organised by the Justice Alliance – marked an unprecedented full-day walk-out by thousands of criminal solicitors and barristers at courts all over England and Wales.
Speakers at the demo – compered by freelance criminal solicitor, Greg Foxsmith – included Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham 6, and Janis Sharp, whose son Gary McKinnon fought extradition to the US over computer-hacking charges; members of solicitors’ and barristers’ representative bodies; Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti; Labour MP Sadiq Khan and former Conservative MP Sir Ivan Lawrence.
The star of legal television drama ‘Silk’, Maxine Peake (pictured below right), even made an appearance at the demo, as she told Grayling via Legal Cheek: ‘Hands off the justice system – and stop bullying the poor and dispossessed.’
Following the demo outside parliament, Paddy Hill and Janis Sharp led the crowd on a march to Liberal Democrat HQ, where they delivered a letter to Nick Clegg telling him that the legal aid cuts are a ‘disgrace’. They also delivered over 100 testimonials from charities, unions and campaign groups to the LibDems, demanding that the party stay the proposed cuts to legal aid.
The lawyers then marched to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), where a group of the protestors – again led by Paddy Hill – took over the ground floor of the building, chanting ‘Grayling must go, legal aid must stay.’
Minister of Injustice
‘If I was in prison today, I wouldn’t get legal aid,’ Paddy Hill (pictured below) told the demo. ‘I would still be rotting in prison.’ Pointing to the Houses of Parliament behind him as he addressed the crowd of lawyers, Hill said: ‘Instead of cutting legal aid, let’s get rid of those bastards behind us…Grayling should be called the Minister of Injustice.’ Hill’s suggestion that the lawyers ‘should come out and strike for good until things change’ was met with rapturous applause.
Janis Sharp’s speech received the loudest cheer of the day as she warned that the legal aid cuts would lead to ordinary people having to seek advice from lawyers who ‘don’t know their arse from their elbow’ because they can’t afford to pay for good quality legal representation. ‘These cuts are not party political,’ Sharp added. ‘They have been ongoing since 1997. This isn’t good enough. We must stop this.’
Francis Neckles, ‘an ordinary, working family man’, who, without legal aid, would have been a victim of a miscarriage of justice, told the demo that his life ‘would’ve been ruined’ without legal aid. Delivering a rousing speech, he said: ‘You only realise the power of the state when you’re personally up against it.’
A shameful government
Sir Ivan Lawrence QC – who has been a member of the Tory party for 60 years and was a Conservative MP for 23 years – told the demo that he was ‘ashamed of this government’. ‘All my life I have been against strikes,’ he said. ‘But this industrial action is justified.‘ Lawrence said the action was justified because criminal lawyers ‘have been walked over year after year’. He encouraged the protestors to ‘put [the government] in fear that if they do not stop these savage cuts, they will not be re-elected.’
‘You have been too quiet for too long, my learned friends. This day had to come and it it may have to come again. This is a day of shame for the Lord Chancellor. We must punish the wrongdoers and defend the children of the poor.’
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan MP joked that Chris Grayling is ‘a man who thinks the Magna Carta is a bottle of champagne’ and slammed the government for being on a ‘mission to deny ordinary people access to justice.’ ‘They are taking away the power of the individual to challenge power and we have to say no,’ said Khan. ‘I am with you and we will defeat them.’
Justice on the cheap is not justice
Former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA), Paul Harris, warned that the cuts will affect a quality justice system. ‘The vocational model of criminal defence will become a relic of a bygone age,’ he said.
Nigel Lithman QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), echoed Harris’ declaration that the MoJ is ‘not fit for purpose’ when he said it was ‘inept’. On the subject of defendants being forced to represent themselves in court, he said: ‘Imagine we were medics – diagnosing and treating ourselves. It is a farce and a tragedy.’
Justice for the rich; McJustice for the poor
Liberal Democrat Alistair Webster QC told the demo that the ‘justice system is being let down by the political system’. Criticising his own party he said that ‘parliamentarians – with very few exceptions – had been utterly spineless.’
Dave Rowntree, the drummer in indie band Blur and a criminal solicitor at Kingsley Napley said that the best birthday present for the Magna Carta on its 800th birthday next year would be for ‘Chris Grayling to scrap his plans to abolish the rights and freedoms set out in it.‘ Rowntree added that, under Grayling’s plans, the UK will have a two-tier system of justice: ‘Justice for the rich; McJustice for the poor.’
‘It is a shame that 800 years after the Magna Carta, we are still having to meet to demand equality and justice before the law.’
Ian Lawrence, from the probation and family courts union NAPO, was met with a cheer from the assembled lawyers when he called for the profession to join the probation service in its day of action on 31st March. ‘It gives me a heavy heart that we have a justice secretary who has so miserably failed the electorate,’ said Lawrence.
Justice Alliance co-founder Matt Foot (pictured right) rounded off the demo by telling attendees that ‘this is not about money; this is an ideological attack.’ ‘They are picking on the most vulnerable, the most needy in society,’ he said.
Pointing to the giant papier mache ‘Chris Grayling’ in the crowd, he said: ‘This man is not going away. We have to be brave. One day isn’t enough to see off this man.’