I am always pleased when I receive messages from people who appreciate what I have written in some of these blogs.
Today, I received such a message, completely out of the blue:
Dear Sir Henry Brooke,I am writing to say how inspired I was by your writings regarding therestrictions imposed on access to justice for many and the impact thesedevastating cuts are having.It seems the general public do not fully understand the devastatingimpact of government policy in this area or else they would beprotesting in the streets. The “comments” of some online news articlesgives the impression people fully believe the “legal aid lawyer = fatcat / gravy train”, “undeserving claimants” and “most expensive legalaid system in the world” myths put forward.I am a graphic designer and I want to help raise awareness of the cutsto Access to Justice and help in any way I can.I was particularly inspired by the succinct way you phrased the problemin your penultimate paragraph in “Stories of Injustice (12): LASPO andthe Cuts” (12th July 2016). Focusing on people’s rights and restrictingRights is a great way of identifying with people that might otherwisebelieve “access to justice” cuts do not affect them. I have set up apublicity campaign based around this concept (www.your-rights.co.uk) andwill be linking it to a dedicated blog as well as designing posters,infographics and other artwork to try to get the message out.If you know of any other way I can help I would be grateful for youradvice.Thank You.
In short, people have rights. They do not know they have those rights. They do not know where to turn for advice about them even if they know they have them. And the number of outlets for such advice has been decimated since LASPO.
How can this be justice?
And then I looked at the new website – http://www.your-rights.co.uk . It is dated 20 March 2017, and has all the advantages of being produced by a graphic designer. On a number of pages it sets out in simple terms the message I have myself been trying to get across to anyone who will listen, including, I hope, members of the Justice Committee and the Government.
Here are some of the messages on the new site:
What We Stand For
“Rights” is a campaign to expose the wholesale undermining of our legal rights. Without the funding in place to guarantee Access to Justice, millions will be and have been rendered voiceless.
“Rights” believe that the ability to enforce the law and to defend one’s self should not just be the preserve of the rich and powerful.
The shield of the people should not be taken from us. The powerful should not be free to oppress us. We should not fear arbitrary persecution.
Access to Justice is the means by which we achieve this.
They are your rights, it’s your life, your future.
Your Access to Justice has been Taken!
The Government have launched a three pronged approach to removing access to the justice system for all but the wealthiest.
Legal Aid – Money to allow legal representation for those otherwise unable to afford it – has been slowly removed from more and more people since the 1980’s. Since 2013 what was left of Legal Aid has been removed completely from many areas of law and savagely cut in the few areas it remains available. In most cases this prevents people from obtaining the necessary legal advice they were entitled to. This lack of advice and guidance makes bad situations infinitely worse (and more costly to resolve).
Court fees have risen astronomically (in some cases by over 500%) preventing legitimate claims where fees exceed the money lost or just cannot be raised in the first place. Even where people can pay these fees, the closure of local courts mean the cost and time of traveling to courts becomes too much. For many people “Access to Justice” no longer exists.
Finally administrative changes and cuts to resources have made the Justice system slow and unworkable. The result is that the costs are pushed onto those who can ill afford to bear them.
Your Access to Justice was a right that has been taken from you. Without this, all your other rights are now meaningless. Make a stand and demand your rights back.
£650 million a year reduction in your rights
Legal aid has been cut by £630 million (a 30% cut) from £2.11 billion in 2010-2011 to £1.48 billion in 2015-2016. This saving was achieved mainly as a result of the 2013 cuts to Legal Aid (LASPO 2013) and a number of further policy decisions taken by the government. With a number of narrow exceptions, NO LEGAL AID is available for:
- Family Law (except in cases of Domestic Violence)
- Defending criminal accusations (if it is decided that you may not go to prison if found guilty and sentenced
But how does this affect my rights?
Access to justice has commonly been thought of as a facilitative right, a right without which others cannot be enforced
UN Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice System
The poorest and most vulnerable in society can no longer get help or advice on these issues under Legal Aid and with no means of paying for advice most have to go without. As a result these people are often unfairly treated.
Without legal aid to help the vulnerable, those making decisions know they can’t be challenged. Bent bosses are able to ruthlessly exploit workers, Loan sharks are left to offer debt “advice” and unfair decisions made by Local Authorities or Government Departments go unchallenged.
The £650 million a year cut to Legal Aid funding has not only destroyed the rights of those unable to get legal advice, they have damaged the rights of anybody unable to challenge those in charge.
Launching the Campaign!
The Government seem committed to removing the rights of the people to challenge injustice. Far from being challenged by the press, the government’s efforts in this area seem positively encouraged. A study conducted on the 65th Anniversary of Legal Aid by the Legal Action Group (2014) found:
“…evidence that the government has pursued a policy of systematic attacks to try and sway public opinion against the legal aid system and the lawyers who work in it”
and that the government argument within the media is repeated as:
- The lawyers who provide the service are overpaid.
- Legal aid goes to the undeserving.
- It is the most expensive system in the world. (Report by Hynes 2014)
These arguments are all flawed and have been debunked multiple times through long articles full of facts and graphs. It does not seem that these counter-arguments are persuasive as following my own preliminary research in this area the overwhelming impression was that people did not really understand what access to justice was or how it would relate to them.
While people recognise that it is almost certain they will need the service of a doctor at one point in their lives most people have limited contact with lawyers (aside from moving home) and the court system.
Given this it is not surprising that the wholesale cuts to the legal system in the UK have not attracted the levels of public support that cuts to the NHS has.
So why does it matter?
The attack on Access to Justice is a fundamental attack on people’s rights. If you cannot hold a person or organisation accountable for hurting your rights then you might as well not have them. If people know that they can’t get away with unfair and unlawful behaviour then they act in a fair and lawful manner. Access to Justice is the glue that helps hold society together and it is being attacked.
This campaign hopes to highlight this by focusing on the damage that will be done to a person’s “rights” if Access to Justice is removed. While people may not believe access to Justice is an issue almost everyone has an idea of rights and fairness and it is this that I hope to tap into to raise awareness of what is going on and how it affects everyone.
At the beginning of this blog I have posted just one of the initial designs that can be downloaded from the site:
It is becoming more and more obvious to me that the publication and republication of messages like these through social media and simple eye-catching designs are far more likely to awaken the conscience of our rulers than any number of weighty written documents, usually compiled by lawyers who know nothing about graphic design.
Those who are “just about managing” are very prominent among those who are now grievously affected by the cruelties created by LASPO. And the Treasury now wants the unprotected Ministry of Justice to cut another £900 million from its budget… Does justice no longer matter?
This is why I was so pleased to receive this message. It has made my day.