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From: The Socialist issue 802, 13 March 2014: Bob Crow: A great fighter for the working class, 1961-2014

Search site for keywords: Legal aid - Aid - Parliament - Government

Lawyers walk out to defend legal aid

Russell Fraser, Criminal barrister and joint secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

It is rare, if it happens at all, that those of us on the left attend protests and demonstrations with Tory party grandees among the speakers.

More rare still that such a figure's words are greeted by applause and cheers. But that was the response when Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, a former Tory MP of 23 years, told those protesting outside parliament on 7 March about cuts to legal aid that he was "ashamed of this government".

For the second time this year criminal solicitors and barristers walked out over the government's continuing attack on legal aid.

On 6 January there was a half-day of action with protests around the country, including the Old Bailey in London.

This time lawyers - again many in wigs and gowns - took their protest to Parliament where we were joined by campaign and grassroots organisations and many people who had used legal aid.

The centre point of the protest was a giant papier-mâché effigy of the justice secretary Chris Grayling designed and built by the Brighton artist Patrick Bullock.

Among those speaking to the assembled crowd were Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six and Janis Sharp whose son, Gary McKinnon, successfully fought against extradition to the United States with the help of legal aid lawyers.

Mr Hill told those watching that Chris Grayling should be renamed the "Minister of Injustice" and urged lawyers to "come out on strike for good" until we got rid of him.

Following the speeches, the rally marched from outside Parliament to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) taking in the Supreme Court and the Liberal Democrat headquarters, led all the way by the giant rendering of the justice secretary.

At Liberal Democrat headquarters a delegation of the Justice Alliance led by Paddy Hill and Janis Sharp redelivered over 100 copies of a document containing testimonials from over 100 organisations stating why legal aid is important.

The testimonials were first delivered to the Liberal Democrats in November last year. To date Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has not responded.

When the march reached the MoJ, protesters walked into the main foyer in large numbers and delivered a copy of the Magna Carta.

At the same time the delighted crowd was treated to the sight of the Chris Grayling effigy being refused entry and then ejected from the MoJ offices.

The legal profession's nascent foray into the world of industrial action and protest has so far been successful.

But in a meeting of lawyers in the afternoon it was agreed that further action would be required. One solicitor called for the next action to be a three-day strike which received unanimous support from those in the hall.

The next stage of the campaign will see barristers refusing to cover the work of colleagues who, because of other court commitments, cannot attend a particular hearing.

This arrangement had always been one of goodwill. That goodwill has been tested and, it appears, has finally been exhausted by the policies of this government.

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