“FA Cup Final to be bubble Policedand there is nothing fans can do about it

Governors decide a local primary school will be closed down due to disagreements with the Head teacherand the parents have no power to challenge it”

“Your nearest hospital will now be 25 miles awaysources say patients’ views on the matter were not even considered

Town’s fire station to be closed as the Local Authority wants to sell the land to housing developers, but doesn’t plan a replacement fire stationLocal Authority say they are doing it ‘because they can‘”

Don’t panic, these are fictitious headlines – at the moment. But they give an idea of the all to real prospect of the future if the Lord Chancellor’s plans to effectively remove legal aid from judicial review proceedings go ahead.

I am sure some of you are thinking ‘oh there she goes again, banging on about legal aid.” And you are right, I have been quite vocal about the Government’s renewed attack on legal aid. 7th March 2014 is a day of action for lawyers opposed to this destruction of legal aid, and this is why lawyers are still fighting for this.

Football fans have faced many restrictions on their freedom of movement, association, and speech through the restrictions placed on them by the Police and Local Councils when attending football matches. Many of these restrictions, including bubble policing, limitation of away ticket numbers, requirement to produce ID when traveling to a match, and fans being held in pubs and clubs and being prevented from attending the match being played only yards away have all been challenged by legal actions such as judicial review. In many instances, the fact that the judicial review proceedings were issued was sufficient for the Police or Local Authority to rethink its restrictions. These legal challenges have only been possible due to legal aid. Ignoring the costs of preparing the application (as many lawyers will offer this for free) the court costs are too restrictive for most fans to be able to afford to pay.

But it is not just football fans…. Challenges to a decision to close a local secondary school, cancel a bus route, close a fire station.. all the decisions which affect our daily lives are the types of judicial review applications which have been brought in the past two years. We have seen the Government and Local Authorities cutting services with abandon, so it is now more important than ever that we are able to challenge their decisions.

I anticipate that in the lead up to the 7th March 2014, the Government will start its usual spin with the media. The standard phrases of “most expensive legal aid system in the World”, “fat cat lawyers” and ‘Your tax shouldn’t be funding unemployed career criminals to get off on technicalities” will appear in some newspapers and in the Ministry of Justice press releases. I don’t intend to spend time telling you why this spin is so factually incorrect, if you want to know more, the Criminal Bar Association website has tons of articles on this misrepresentation of the facts. http://www.criminalbarassociation.wordpress.com

But what the Government spin is not telling you is that it is exactly the low to middle income tax payer who will be losing out in this decimation of legal aid, which doesn’t only affect crime. Judicial review is the means by which the Government. Local authorities and other public bodies can be held to account. The Government plans to severely restrict legal aid in judicial review cases, such that there will be no legal aid available for most cases, and in cases where legal aid could possibly be granted, it will only be granted if the claim is most likely to be successful. Lets face it, if the Police, Local Authority, Government thought that the application against them was most likely to be successful, then they should withdraw the offending rule or policy. To continue opposing the application would be a waste of tax payers money.

But it is in cases where there is no clear answer on whether the public authority or the complainant who is right, that judicial review is most important. The whole point of judicial review is to be able to challenge the actions of the state, not just those where the State is overwhelmingly and obviously wrong. Without the prospect of being challenged, the public authorities will be able to do what they want with impunity, because they know that whether they are right or not, the general public will not be able to afford to challenge them. Cynics like me are questioning whether this is the actually the Government motive as there have been some quite high profile losses for the Government in judicial review cases in the past three years. Whatever the motive, without access to legal aid for judicial review the Government, Public Authorities and Local Authorities will be able to spend tax payers money as the wish without any threat of challenge. This is certainly not a future I want see…how about you?

What you can do to help.

Sign this petition started by Joanna Lumley www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-cameron-uk-government-save-legal-aid-to-protect-access-to-justice-for-all

Make others aware of the issues, spread the word via social media, or in your workplace or just among family and friends.

Write a complaint to your MP or start a petition to present to your MP.

Many of us lawyers are working very hard to fight these proposed changes, but we can’t do it alone, we need your help.

To find out more about the proposed changes to judicial review and what judicial review is all about read this one page guide prepared by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors www.disabilityrightsuk.org/sites/default/files/pdf/judicialreview.pdf


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About gurdena

Social Justice Barrister, interested in all things contentious & anything criminal justice related including prisoners and complaints against the police. Specialising in criminal law - mainly sex, violence, and football fans (not necessarily all 3 at the same time!). Represents people facing death penalty in the USA. Associate Member at Drystone Chambers Gurdena@btinternet.com Alison.gurden@drystone.com

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