The following article first appeared on Magna Carta 800 Years and is reproduced with kind permission of its authors.
From 21 February 2015, Students for Legal Aid are calling on students from across the UK to protest against the Global Law Summit, an event hosted by the Government to celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta.
The hypocrisy of commemorating the birth of the rule of law with a networking opportunity for international businessmen – dubbed the ‘Davos of law’ – while at the same time decimating access to justice for ordinary people, cannot pass unchallenged. For that reason, Justice Alliance UK – a coalition of legal organisations, charities, community groups, trade unions and individuals –is planning a series of events to coincide with the Summit:
- a 40 mile Relay for Rights from Runnymede – the site of the charter’s signing – to the Summit’s venue off Parliament Square;
- an assembly on the streets outside, including talks and music in which the theme of justice will actually get a look in;
- capped off with a comedy gig on Monday evening at Union Chapel in Islington featuring Stewart Lee and Sarah Pascoe amongst others.
Why should students join the protest?
Legal aid is the provision of legal advice and representation to those who cannot afford it.It is an essential pillar of the welfare state. The Justice Minister, Chris Grayling MP, has reduced beyond recognition the availability of legal aid for vulnerable members of our society, such as victims of domestic violence and state abuse. No area of social justice has been left unscathed.
The direct implications for students are significant. You will no longer be supported by the State if your rights are breached during protests; when you wish to challenge the behaviour of negligent landlords or unfair immigration decisions; to take on employers who exploit the precarious position of part-time workers and those on zero hours contracts – in fact, you will be charged hundreds of pounds in newly-introduced employment tribunal fees.
Isn’t the battle already over?
Absolutely not. What’s lost can be saved and what’s been saved might be lost.
There have been a number of successful Judicial Review challenges to Grayling’s cuts (see http://magnacarta800years.com/judicial-review/). It is of little surprise, then, that the Criminal Justice Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, will limit the availability of such judicial oversight, thus giving more power to the Executive. Meanwhile, the eradication of the only other formal means by which ordinary citizens can hold government to account, the bringing of their case to the European Court of Human Rights, is at the heart of the Tory’s election manifesto.