Publicly Funded Justice: The Writing is on the Wall

Michael Mansfield QC, President Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

The state has a responsibility to enshrine the principles of justice in legislation as well as establishing and maintaining the means of its implementation.

This government and its predecessors have increasingly failed in both these respects. They speak gobbledygook about human rights and the two most central figures the Justice Minister and the Home Secretary have recently displayed an appalling lack of understanding in their wild hostility to the ECHR. The cuts on all fronts not only withdraw benefits but also emasculate the most vulnerable.

Whole areas are now without any legal aid or only a skeleton resource.

None of this is primarily about lawyers, although they are effected, it is about a basic provision, Justice, the very substance of what is left of our democracy. No fundamental rights are worth the paper they are written upon unless they can be enforced especially against overweening and corruptive authorities.

All this is known and has been foreshadowed over the last decade. The proclaimed agenda is the privatisation and fragmentation of all public services. The thinly veiled rationalisation now is the crippling debt brought about by a free-wheeling private finance sector. There are alternatives which George Osborne vehemently opposes such as a financial transaction tax.

Now is the time to alert and collectivise the public conscience to take a stand. It cannot be achieved by pockets of protest and opposition within the legal profession alone. Negotiating for the crumbs that might fall from the table is also not an option. There has been, with small exceptions, an intransigence and almost dismissive contempt by government towards the plight of the citizen.

The writing is on the wall for all to see and has to be erased by the determination and singular purpose of civic society. There are presently many networks available to facilitate this, AVAAZ and 38 DEGREES are two fine examples which serve constituencies of millions. They have already brought about seismic shifts in opinion and policy. The Coalition has a limited shelf life and its misplaced objectives can be removed by concerted effort.