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Central London and 6 other town centres brought to standstill in mass civil disobedience across UK
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Roadblock protests have started in 7 towns and cities all over the UK with the protestors bringing central London’s Fleet Street to a standstill in opposition to the government’s proposed changes to legal aid.
The central London action outside the Royal Courts of Justice have brought Fleet Street and the surrounding areas to a stand still. Protestors say they know the actions will be disruptive, but that they are a necessary and proportional response to the government’s plans to block access to the courts for millions of ordinary people by making justice unaffordable.
The government’s reforms have come under increasing criticism, with England’s most senior family judge recently describing them as ‘disconcerting’ and suggesting that ‘something needs to be done’ . In July, the government was forced to backtrack on a key part of the reforms, that of removing the right of legal aid defendants to choose their solicitor, following protests .
Protestors will block roads in seven towns and cities across the UK: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Cambridge, Hull, Northampton and Norwich. In London, protesters will meet at the Old Bailey at 11.30am, and during the roadblock will put the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, on trial for ‘perverting the course of justice’. The protesters have organised bands, poetry and know your rights workshops to take place during the road block.
The government claims that changes will improve efficiency in the legal system and that the UK has one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world , but this claim has been challenged by research showing that the estimated £6m savings will be dwarfed by £30m in knock-on costs .
Anna Davidson, UK Uncut spokesperson said: “The government is making a political choice to cut legal aid to stop charities and individuals challenging their austerity agenda and its impacts in the courts. The government is lying when it says the legal aid changes are about saving money because their plans will cost more than they save.
“The government is making ordinary people pay the price of the economic crisis by stopping ordinary people accessing free legal advice and representation. Legal aid helps people keep their homes when social services is trying to evict them because of the bedroom tax, or sue the government over wrongful arrest or kettling, or disabled people access the services they need.”
Jack Genel, UK Uncut supporter said: “We are all here today to show our resistance and anger at these unnecessary legal aid plans. We know that we are causing inconvenience, but we are following in the footsteps of many, including the Suffragettes and civil rights groups, in creative civil disobedience to challenge the government’s plans that will mean that only the rich can afford legal representation and advice.”
Lynn Jacobs, a UK uncut supporter said “I will be supporting this action because I have already seen the impact of legal aid changes. I fled an abusive relationship and was not sure what to do to protect myself. Because of the changes to legal aid I could not afford get a court order to protect myself from my ex-partner. I feel sad that the government does not want to help to protect me, and women like me, from violence. Why can’t the government make companies, like Google, pay their fair share instead of punishing people like me?”
The activists have enlisted the support of other direct action groups, including Disabled People Against the Cuts, Plane Stupid and Fuel Poverty Action [5, 6, 7].
Notes to editors:
1 These comments were made in a recent court case and are recorded as part of the official transcript. See http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2013/08/23/family-division-president-says-legal-aid-cuts-disconcerting/
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