It is Magna hypocrisy by this Government to purport to ‘celebrate’ the anniversary of Magna Carta with their big corporate and political friends while denying the ordinary person the right to justice. Our legal system has developed over the years into a complex labyrinth, often impossible for people to negotiate without confusion and fear. That has very little to do with lawyers or the judiciary, all of whom at one time or another despair at the complexity of parliamentary and regulatory law imposed upon us. (They didn’t create this complex organism that is our legal system. The government did.)
- On February 23, the Justice Alliance has a fundraiser ‘Not the Global Law Summit’ featuring Angela Barnes, Joe Wells, Kevin Eldon, Nick Revell, Sara Pascoe, Stephen K Amos and Stewart Lee. Tickets here
The complexity and potential injustice was recognised by the introduction of legal aid in 1949.
This enabled people to have the specialist help they required especially in the face of corporate and Government power. Never was it more important than in the realm of the criminal law where inability to function in the courts without assistance could have could have severe consequences including loss of liberty. Due to the growing evidence of police misconduct leading to false confessions, in 1984 free and independent legal advice was extended to the representation of all suspects interviewed in the police station. (Or now even at home or elsewhere if interviewed by the police under caution).
This right to legal aid is important. How does this relate to Magna Carta? The most celebrated foundation of our legal system is the following provision of Magna Carta. ‘We will sell to no man; we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.’
Over the centuries this basic tenet of Magna Carta has suffused our society and been taken on and developed into enlightened legislation (such as introducing and extending legal aid). Why is that? In the past politicians of all parties recognised that entitlement to ‘justice and right’ is entirely illusory unless people are given the practical ability to access them. To remove legal aid and indeed to restrict Judicial review is an absolute affront to Magna Carta principles. It would ‘deny Justice or right’.
The attack on legal aid is now so severe that many question whether people will be able to exercise their rights in the near future if the system collapses. Failing solicitors’ firms will in domino fashion take out barristers’ chambers dependent upon them and the judiciary will be decimated. The courts will be filled with bewildered people facing professional state-funded lawyers but without the ability, unless wealthy, to defend themselves effectively against them.
I hope all principled people will stay from events hosted by the Lord Chancellor to celebrate Magna Carta in protest at his erosion of our right to legal aid and judicial review and attend events designed to highlight his blatant hypocrisy.
As an Englishman and a lawyer I am so proud that my country gave the world Manga Carta. I am so ashamed that our present Government – without any mandate and contrary to the wishes of the people (according to polling evidence) – wishes to erode irreversibly the protection that Magna Carta gave us all. We must draw the line and stop over mighty Government trashing our ancient rights and protection.
Robin is a member of Robin Murray and Co and former vice chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association. He was a joint winner of the 2015 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award for fighting the legal aid cuts