High-profile cases such as those of murder victims Stephen Lawrence and Victoria Climbié would not have been taken up by lawyers if the government’s legal aid cuts had been in place, a prominent solicitor-advocate has warned.
Imran Khan, partner at London firm Imran Khan & Partners, was speaking at the launch of a campaign to highlight the impact the legal aid reforms will have on black and minority ethnic (BME) clients and lawyers.
Khan cited cases involving the families of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence (pictured), abused and murdered child Victoria Climbié, and Zahid Mubarek, killed by his cellmate, as having an impact not just on those directly involved but on the wider public, holding the responsible authorities to account. ‘None of these cases will be taken in the future,’ he said.
Launching the ‘Access to Justice’ campaign, 150 judges, QC barristers and solicitors gathered in parliament to warn of the disproportionate impact that the proposals would have on black and Asian communities and lawyers.
Chair of the Society of Asian Lawyers (SAL) Sailesh Mehta said the proposals, which remove client choice, would ‘severely curtail’ access to justice for BME communities.
He said the introduction of price-competitive tendering would force the closure of many BME firms as the majority are smaller practices – a point that the Ministry of Justice accepts in its impact assessment.
The campaign was launched jointly by the SAL, Nigerian Lawyers Association, Association of Muslim Lawyers, Black Solicitors Network and others.
Opposition MPs, including the shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, pledged to do all they could do stop the changes.
However, Sadiq Khan warned that if the reforms go ahead, even if a Labour government is elected in 2015, it will be unable to reverse the changes, as by then many legal aid lawyers will have been lost to the profession. ‘We need to fight the cuts now and make savings,’ he said.
SAL secretary Sundeep Bhatia warned of ‘Armageddon’ for the BME legal community.
Last Wednesday, meanwhile, the Gazette exclusively revealed that the most senior judges have raised serious concerns about the reforms.