Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Jul 29, 2011 12:22:14 GMT
On LAPG website
Looks like J4A are upping the campaign stakes with the appointment of a Campaign Manager. Sounds like they mean business, let's hope this is a summer of really effective campaigning against these completely illogical reforms.
Thursday, 28 July 2011
Looming Autumn of Discontent and a Minister in Trouble
"Parliament rose for its summer break last week after the Prime Minister David Cameron had given his statement on the phone tapping scandal. The day before on 19th July the Committee scrutinising the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill had met for its first session to consider the content of the Bill.
The Committee last week did not get beyond a general discussion on the Bill and clause one. A point proved we think on the lack of time that LAG and others have complained about being devoted to the Bill. We fear that as little as two and half days will be devoted to the forty clauses in the Bill on legal aid, as the government seems determined to force through the Bill so that it can be sent to the House of Lords by 13th October.
Many organisations are trying to get the Bill amended while it is in the Commons committee stage. Amendments, amongst other issues, will seek to reverse the cuts in scope, widen the definition of domestic violence and introduce an independent appeals system against the refusal of legal aid. Once the Bill is in the Lords further detailed amendments are likely to be pursued by LAG and other organisations concerned about access to justice.
Justice for All (J4A) will be increasing its campaigning and lobbying work over the summer and autumn. The J4A campaign, which is an alliance of charities and other organisations concerned about the legal aid cuts, is expected to employ a full-time campaign manager to be based at LAG’s offices. The campaign manager will be in charge of the day to day running of the campaign while the Bill is being considered...."
Post by Colin Henderson on Aug 18, 2011 11:03:54 GMT
Well I just have a bad feeling that gearing up the J4A campaign in the autumn might be too late. The fees cuts happen in SIX WEEKS TIME. I hope I'm wrong, but suppliers will start to pull out/wind down from then.
CitA said this week: "the campaign will have some dedicated staff and small budget for the first time, as Legal Action Group has secured funding from Baring Foundation for a campaign manager post for 6 months. More information will be coming to Justice for All members in the coming weeks, so make sure you join the campaign!"
Well there's been nothing new on the site and no emails for weeks. I wish the new manager the very best but shouldn't this money have been raised months ago?
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Aug 18, 2011 22:01:09 GMT
Totally agree with your sentiments there Colin. This is a crucial time to be getting armed up ready for the autumn and we know that come September, the scrutiny committee will be off to a roaring start. This isn't the time to be silent, it's worrying. What's happening J4A?
I'm pleased to see SOFJ put up one of my blog posts with a link to the thread I'm running on the crazy welfare reforms over on Mylegal. I did send J4A the link but nothing came of it.
I know there's a lot of talk about not getting political and up to now I've tried very hard not to. But let's be straight here, this is a matter of political choice. We've got the Tories, who by and large are dead against Social Welfare support in any shape or form and Labour are clear in their commitment to supporting us as shown by all the sterling work they do in helping to state our case.
It's just a shame that there aren't more of the Tories who stand against this social welfare carnage like Helen Grant and the MP for Hastings. They need to come forward.
It would be nice to know what the Liberal line on this is, I guess that'll become clearer at Conference. But yes, things need to be happening now.
Post by Colin Henderson on Aug 31, 2011 14:29:03 GMT
Well I did get an email update last Thursday - I presume all supporters did:
"Your support will be vital over the coming months, as our campaign for free legal advice goes through a critical phase. This is the first of a more regular e-news to keep you up-to-date and let you know how you can play your part in the national movement for free legal advice. "
Good - we like emails
After a pause over the summer, the Legal Aid Bill will be back on the agenda again in September, when MPs return to work. So it’s good to remember that all our hard work so far is having an effect. Campaigning ensured that government abandoned some of their proposals before the Bill was even introduced (see Appendix 1 of our Parliamentary briefing). Since then, in July, Minister Ken Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, announced £20m fund for the advice sector, to help it through these difficult times. Although the details are still unclear, fantastic campaigning from members around the country convinced ministers they had to act. Read the announcement in Hansard (col 994). And a few days later, the government announced they would be changing the Bill to retain help for people needing immigration advice to escape a violent relationship. Read more.
But we all know the Legal Aid bill and many other cuts to advice funding will leave hundreds of thousands of people unable to access desperately-needed legal advice. So our campaign is needed now more than ever."
How's that for positive spinning???!!! I'm afraid it doesn't fool me or the government for a minute...
They go on to announce an "adopt a Lord" initiative and issue an appeal for volunteers to leaflet the main party conferences. All very respectable and proper but all very unlikely to have any effect.
I'm off to see if the Libyan TNC can lend us any of those cool armoured pickups they used so effectively...
Justice for All have updated their site today to include a briefing to the bill committee on the effect of the legal aid cuts on disabled people. This has been signed by a number of the key disability charities. "Disability charities urge rethink on cuts to welfare benefits advice As Parliament returns after the summer, a group of influential disability charities have endorsed a briefing outlining the impact legal aid cuts to welfare benefits advice will have on 78,000 disabled people each year.
National charities including Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the MS Society and RNIB have signed up out of concern that the removal of legal aid for benefits advice at the same time as radical changes to the welfare system take effect will leave disabled people with nowhere to turn should they need help navigating or challenging the system.
Government plans to cut all legal aid for welfare benefits issues. Most of this is used by not-for-profit advice providers to help people appeal wrong decisions, and a disproporationate 58% of those affected by the cut are disabled.
Mr Singh was forced to give up his 40 year career as an electrician when he was diagnosed with Huntingdon’s disease. When he was given the wrong rate of Disability Living Allowance, his local advice agency helped him successfully appeal the decision, ensuring he and his wife and teenage son were able to deal, at least financially, with his illness.
The full briefing is available to download here. We hope MPs and Peers will consider the devastating effect this measure will have on disabled people and urge them to protect legal aid in this area. Please do forward this briefing to your MP. Read the briefing Download the full briefing here"
Post by Colin Henderson on Sept 14, 2011 8:44:09 GMT
J4A have now emailed members with an update on their lobbying activities over conference season as described above. The info is not on their site so I reproduce it here:
"The Law Society and Justice for All are joining forces to brings politicians together at the three major party conferences to discuss free legal advice. All conferences delegates are invited, so please ask your MP or councillors to come - or join us yourself if you can!
Liberal Democrat: 07:30am - 08:45, Tuesday 20th Sept, Jury's Inn
Justice for All have launched a newspaper on legal aid cuts for Lib Dem conference-nice idea.
"Justice for All launch newspaper on the legal aid cuts Created specially for party conference season, Justice for All's newspaper dedicated to the advice and legal aid cuts launched at the Liberal Democrat conference today. Download your copy here.
It hightlights the danger facing advice agencies and, more importantly, the people who use their services. It features Debbie and Charlie, who would have been forced to endure years of terrible harassment without legal aid, and features prominent campaigners making the case to keep legal aid. It also breaks down how the cuts will affect each region of the UK, showing where the impact will be most keenly felt.
If you're at party conference keep an eye out for a copy. Email Justice For AllJustice for All a coalition of charities, legal and advice agencies, politicians, trade unions, community groups and members of the public."
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Sept 24, 2011 0:43:38 GMT
Good article in Guardian by James Sandach
"Nick Clegg's defence of liberal justice belies legal aid gloom Liberal Democrat conference pledge of equal rights for all undermined by legal aid reforms that deny justice to the poor"
guardian.co.uk, Friday 23 September 2011 17.26 BST
"Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats leader, focused on 'liberal justice' in a recent speech to the party faithful in Birmingham.
Nick Clegg's keynote conference speech made a theme of "liberal justice" – he staunchly defended the Human Rights Act and extolled restorative justice in the aftermath of riots. The Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister also made a string of announcements from consumer rights and ending child detention to promising equal rights on gay marriage, social mobility and better access to education and opportunities. This will impress those with liberal values and is great news for social justice.
But there is still one major area of contention: the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill, which is careering through parliament with few political heavyweights questioning whether it is the right time to dismantle the system. Legal services advising the poorest on employment rights, debt problems, welfare benefit law issues, immigration problems, medical malpractice, tenancy issues, or family and relationship breakdown/divorce will be abolished under the bill. No one will be able to get legal aid advice on these issues, except under the most extreme circumstances such as domestic violence or forced eviction.
Criminal legal aid remains mostly untouched by the bill, although it does include a worrying provision that could restrict access to advice in police custody and limit advice on civil and family issues.
This policy decision sits oddly with the prime minister's pledge to support legal advice agencies.
Recent Lib Dem conferences have passed motions supporting civil legal aid, equality before the law and access to justice. And this week in Birmingham was no different – it passed an amendment to a motion on welfare reform which insists that appellants on benefit appeals should get legal aid, and called on the government to reverse the exclusion of welfare benefits law from legal aid, which has been written into the bill.
At one fringe meeting, the justice minister, Lord McNally, acknowledged that many Liberal Democrats were unhappy with the policy behind the legal aid bill, but he defended the policy by claiming the cuts had been forced on the Ministry of Justice by the economic situation and reduction of its budget. He likened the ministry's situation to that of a cash-strapped council having to close a popular children's play centre. He also dismissed the notion of conference votes having any bearing on coalition policy, saying it was "a Saturday morning resolution, which cannot mean that parliamentarians have to follow it".
At another fringe meeting, this time organised by a group of lawyers, Tom Brake MP, the party's justice lead in the Commons, was questioned about the accountability of the frontbench on legal aid policy. He observed that cuts were not in the coalition agreement, so the issues had to be negotiated, and the package was inevitably a compromise between two parties made in difficult financial circumstances.
While he assured the audience he understood their objections to the bill, he said his room for manoeuvre in changing the legislation was limited, given ministers had not been convinced by any of the alternative ways of reducing legal aid spending put to them during the consultation stage.
This led to a heated discussion on the moral hazards of politicians choosing whose rights should be prioritised by the shrinking legal aid budget – victims of medical negligence, domestic violence, harassed tenants or disabled peoples' welfare rights? Of course, the result of competing claims deserving both justice and funding is that no one comes out winning.
Legal aid has always received support from across the political spectrum, but now it is as if a solar eclipse has been cast across the debate about what is required for fair and decent standards of access to justice. With little sign of even small concessions, let alone a significant rethink on the measures in the legal aid bill, these are dark days for legal aid and for those who rely on it. And the contrast with the sunny, optimistic vision of liberal justice could not be greater.
James Sandbach is social policy officer at the Citizens Advice Bureau and a member of the Justice4All coalition"
Well said James!
Follow the Mylegal article on which of the three party leaders gives social welfare legal aid the most hope; - starting with Nick Clegg's speech.
Justice for All update in October's Legal Action from LAG "Justice for All campaign update October 2011
Gail Emerson and Will Horwitz, Justice for All’s campaign managers, write:
It is shocking (but not surprising) that despite all the strong arguments put by Justice for All members and others about the problems with the Legal Aid Bill, the coalition government has not yet accepted the need for any major changes. As the last chance for all MPs to influence the bill – at its House of Commons third reading – approaches fast, it is more important than ever to contact your MP. For those with close relationships with MPs and peers, Justice for All has produced detailed briefings, from both the campaign and its member organisations, which are tailored to specific interests. For example, we have an area-by-area briefing on the impact of social welfare law cuts to legal aid. This will show MPs how many people in their region will be left without advice if the bill is passed: the numbers are frighteningly high. If you have not already met with your contact in the House of Commons and/or House of Lords over this issue, do consider it.
Evidence of the impact of planned legal aid cuts
People with disabilities Influential disability charities, including Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, have shown how removing welfare benefits advice from scope will affect 78,000 disabled people each year.............................."