Lawyers are getting rather good at demonstrating noisily against government plans to ‘transform’ legal aid.
Obiter, an unseasoned protestor, has in the past three months attended three such gatherings, most recently yesterday outside the Old Bailey. Organised by the Justice Alliance – a coalition of 30 lawyers groups, charities and unions – the demo marked the 64th birthday of legal aid. Despite the serious concerns over the plans highlighted by a long list of worthy speakers, there was a party atmosphere.
This meant not just a birthday cake, cut by Labour MP Diane Abbott, but singing. Representatives from the London Youth Gospel Choir led the 300-strong crowd in the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday Legal Aid’ and ‘When I’m 64’. There were toe-tapping tunes from punk rocker TV Smith and good cause stalwart Tom Robinson.
Even Obiter couldn’t resist joining in one chorus - ‘one law for the rich and another one for the poor’. A specially written song performed by singer/songwriter Adeola Johnson declared ‘Legal aid is not a luxury, just ask the Guildford Four. Guilty until proven innocent if you’re working class and poor’.
As Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti stressed, the demo was to celebrate legal aid, not to mourn its death. The fight, she declared, ‘ain’t over yet, it hasn’t even started’.
All this may give justice secretary Chris Grayling and his chums at the Ministry of Justice cause for concern as they continue to scratch their heads over how to take their reform agenda forward. They will have a fight on their hands.