Article published: Wednesday, October 9th 2013
Manchester UK Uncut blocked a section of road on Deansgate near the magistrates’ courts during a protest against the Coalition’s proposed changes to legal aid last Saturday, 5 October.
The changes, which aim to cut £220 million from the criminal legal aid bill, are the next step in a long line of controversial reforms by successive governments.
The government claims the reforms are necessary to reduce spending. But protestors allege it represents a “historic attack on our rights”.
Opponents believe that by making cuts to the services offered to prisoners, immigrants, and to those on an annual income of £37,500 and over, the government will be taking away the “ability to challenge” decisions and will “block all but the rich from access to justice.”
In order to raise awareness for their cause UK Uncut held roadblocks up and down the country, with protests carried out in key places such as London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Northampton, Norwich and Hull.
Protestors at the roadblocks could be seen holding banners, and others came in costume as Lady Justice. As expected, the activity caused some disturbances to traffic in these areas.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has defended the cuts to legal aid. He insists that the UK “will still have one of the most generous legal aid systems in the world” even after the reforms have taken place.
The minister’s claims have been disputed by the Bar Council, the professional representative body for barristers in England and Wales. In their response to the reforms, they state explicitly that they do not agree with the proposals as “no account is to be taken of the views of the defendant” in selecting their legal aid solicitor. In the same document, they present a belief that the government, by removing client choice, could be in danger of breaching the human rights of those who rely on legal aid.
This is not the first time individuals have expressed their unhappiness with the government over planned changes to legal aid: in July hundreds of people gathered to march through Manchester city centre in defence of their right to equal access of justice.
Additional protests also took place last week during the Conservative Party conference in an attempt to voice dissatisfaction with the government’s future plans.
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