Legal aid cuts decimate access to justice – Michael Mansfield QC

Michael Mansfield QC At the second annual Social Justice Lecture Mr Mansfield told his audience that “the system is broken and does not just need mending. We need a different system. Vote for the usual suspects and you get more of the same”.

Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:33:00 GMT

House of Commons is “stagnant, antiquated and corrupt” maintains Queens Council Michael Mansfield at the Law School’s annual Social Justice Lecture  

Sean Curley, Michael Mansfield QC, Professor Stuart Toddington and Phil Drake Pictured with Michael Mansfield QC (second left) are; Sean Curley Acting Head of the Law School (far left), Professor of Jurisprudence Stuart Toddington (second right) with Senior Lecturer and Director of the Legal Advice Clinic Philip Drake (far right).

THE UK Government is glorifying in the legacy of Magna Carta – signed 800 years ago.  But its cutbacks in legal aid are leading to “a decimation of access to justice”, claimed ‘radical lawyer’ Michael Mansfield QC, when he spoke at the University of Huddersfield. 

His lecture was entitled The Democratic Deficit and Mr Mansfield lashed the House of Commons as “stagnant, antiquated and corrupt”.  He argued that the current “cash for access” controversy surrounding Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Labour MP Jack Straw was as serious as the Parliamentary expenses row before the last general election. 

Now, with a new election looming, Mr Mansfield told his audience that “the system is broken and does not just need mending.  We need a different system.  Vote for the usual suspects and you get more of the same”. 

He claimed that an opportunity had arisen for people to say “enough is enough” and he argued that a democratic revolution is taking place, symbolised by a sequence of Reimagining Democracy meetings taking place in several large UK cities. 

In the video Michael Mansfield talks about how the system has become unaccountable to ordinary people.

Mr Mansfield – who revealed that he intended to vote for the Green Party – predicted that the imminent election could result in a political hiatus and it was an opportunity for people to say “we don’t want any of you”.  He would welcome the Australian innovation of a ballot paper that enabled voters to tick “none of the above”. 

Legal Aid cuts 

The controversial lawyer was speaking at the second annual Social Justice Lecture to take place at the University.  The series is inspired by an innovative town centre Legal Advice Clinic (LAC) launched by law lecturers and students and now marking its first anniversary.  Before the lecture, a five-strong student team from the LAC described the venture, how it was inspired by the cuts in legal aid, and they provided facts and figures that illustrated the demand for its services (pictured below).

Their seamless presentation earned applause from the packed audience and was praised by Michael Mansfield – but he added that he wished their work was not necessary.  He claimed that the Government’s cuts in Legal Aid – under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act – were motivated not by economic necessity, but by dogma. 

He drew on a sequence of high profile cases and campaigns in which he has been involved in order to illustrate his theory that a “baton of change” was passed on by individuals and groups who had the “courage and will” to seek transparency and accountability from the authorities and politicians. 

Amy Watson, Jessica Carlin, Qasim Hasan, Aysha Mattloob and Matthew Gale He cited the Stephen Lawrence case and the persistence of the murdered teenager’s parents in their quest for justice.  Doreen Lawrence was eventually elevated to the House of Lords – “an amazing transformation for an ordinary person”. 

Mr Mansfield drew parallels with episodes such as Bloody Sunday in Ulster, the Marchioness river boat disaster on the Thames, the Hillsborough tragedy and the Iraq War, when, he said, the public was misled and the democratic system failed.  In all of these cases, families had been persistent in their demands for transparency and they had challenged the “collusion” that Mr Mansfield believes is at the heart of the political establishment. 

He also described a campaign to reverse cuts to the funding of a hospital in Lewisham.  This has led to mass protests and a People’s Commission of Inquiry, of which Mr Mansfield was a member. 

“It was one of the most powerful experiences I have had,” he said. 

The Social Justice Lecture was introduced by Sean Curley, who heads the University of Huddersfield’s Law School.  He raised the legacy of Magna Carta – which reminded the king that the law was above him – and he paid tribute to Michael Mansfield, who also “reminded the great and the powerful that they are subject to the law.”

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