In the first half of the twentieth century when the Legal Aid and Advice Act came into force in Britain, legal aid was considered to be the fourth pillar of the new welfare state, alongside the National Health Service, comprehensive schools and council housing. There was public support for the new form of legal funding, which promised to uphold equality before the law and permit ordinary people to hold powerful individuals and institutions to account.
Since 1949, however, that overwhelming UK public support for legal aid has declined, as a result of successive Government assaults on legal aid, coupled with a never-ending stream of negative articles condemning legal aid and its recipients in the mainstream media.
Media Diversified readers will be under no illusions as to why it is important to fight to protect access to legal aid. I don’t need to tell you that there are some legal issues that disproportionately affect Black and Minority Ethnic people and can only be resolved with the assistance of legal aid.
Take the historic issue of the deaths of Black people at the hands of the British state. One example is Sean Rigg who died in police custody in 1998. Were you aware that when Sean died his family did not have the automatic right to receive legal aid for legal representation at his inquest? Only years of fighting by his indefatigable sister Marcia finally corrected the situation. The same thing happened to Cherry Groce’s family after she was unlawfully killed by the police in her home. Shockingly, in 2016, the mother of 5 year old Alexia Walenkaki, who died playing in an East London park, is going through the same struggle. For the grieving families of loved ones who died at the hands of the state, legal aid is literally about life and death.
Turning to the workplace, we already know that discrimination affects Black employees more than employees of other backgrounds but, unfortunately, the situation appears to be getting worse. In the last week alone, there have been new reports of continued bullying of Black employees in the NHS and the continued flatlining of Black legal professionals’ careers. Now, even the way Black women choose to style our hair is under attack. In 2012, the Government took away everyone’s right to receive legal aid to help them bring legal claims for maltreatment or discrimination at work. Could it be possible that the rise in workplace discrimination is linked to the withdrawal of legal aid for employment matters?
For the past fortnight, I have been working on an unprecedented justice focussed crowdfunding campaign, which is aiming to raise funds to produce a special one-off publication telling the definitive story of legal aid. It is hoped that the publication, which will be aimed at the public, will assist wider efforts to counter the currently negative public discourse on legal aid matters and change hearts and minds.
I am working on the campaign for The Justice Gap, itself an online magazine about law and justice. The Justice Gap is also aimed at the public and run by journalists. I volunteer with The Justice Gap as a commissioning editor.
For this legal aid magazine campaign, The Justice Gap has joined forces with The Justice Alliance, a coalition of individuals, legal organisations, charities, community groups, trade unions, grass roots and other campaigning groups, who are united in opposition to Government attacks on legal aid and the British criminal justice system.
Working with Crowd Justice, a new crowdfunding platform that recently helped the Junior Doctors to crowdfund their legal action challenging Government proposals to impose new contracts, Justice Gap and Justice Alliance are campaigning to raise £5,000 to cover the costs of a special Proof Magazine on legal aid. At the time of writing, we have raised over £4,000 and now have just under two weeks left to raise the last £1,000.
If The Justice Gap and Justice Alliance are able to fund the one-off special edition of Proof Magazine, it will shine a light on the terrible injustices being faced by ordinary people being denied legal aid. It will also set out to the public in stark terms what that really means for families like the Riggs, the Groces and so many others.
Help fight for legal aid’s future. Please pledge your support for the crowdfunding campaign HERE.
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Miranda Grell is a proud East Londoner and daughter of Dominica. She currently works for Hackney Community Law Centre, is a writer and commissioning editor at www.thejusticegap.com and is also a trustee of the Bernie Grant Trust. Miranda was called to the Bar of England and Wales by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple in 2014. She tweets at @mirandagrell