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How to Overturn Centuries of Progress

Posted: 27/04/2012 12:04

This Saturday 28th April 2012, a day of action will take place up and down the country in response to government plans to reduce the health and safety 'burden'.

Organised by the Trades Union Congress, Workers' Memorial Day has two principal goals; to emphasise the importance of protecting the rights of working people; in particular their right to expect a safe environment in the workplace and secondly to remember those who have lost their lives at work or from a work-related illness.

I'm happy to say that my firm is supporting a variety of events with services in Leeds and a gathering at the Workers' Memorial Garden in Gateshead on Saturday afternoon.

Workers' Memorial Day has been made all the more poignant by its juxtaposition with regressive reforms forced through Parliament this week. I wrote previously on these pages that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill would, if passed in its present form, have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable people in society.

Unfortunately, this fact apparently had little bearing on the coalition, who ushered through a wave of reforms, invoking 'financial privilege' and blocking any further challenges from the House of Lords which had voted MPs down on no less than 11 occasions.

Legal aid will be removed from thousands of deserving cases including children injured as a result of clinical negligence while at one stage MPs even callously voted in favour of proposals to take 25% of the damages from victims of the fatal asbestos cancer, Mesothelioma, in order to cover the costs of recovering the compensation to which they are entitled. This proposal would have had no influence on the Ministry of Justice's aim to reduce its budget and cut the legal aid bill, rather the idea was purely designed to benefit insurance companies who indemnified Britain's industries against the cost of their negligence in exposing workers to deadly asbestos.

Thankfully after pressure from the Lords and a number of MPs including Conservatives from constituencies like Derbyshire's High Peak and Medway in Kent, Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke promised a postponement for these 25% clawbacks. Ian Lucas, MP for Wrexham, described the situation perfectly when he said: "I am a solicitor, and I did not go into the law to take damages away from a dying person, pending the outcome of a claim".

However, this represents a small victory and one which masks a battle now lost for working people and those too vulnerable to be able to protect themselves. Our elected representatives have pushed through the draconian measures in the LASPO Bill, while rejecting sensible argument to the contrary at nearly every step. For example, the bill's supporters seemed intent on making every last one of us use a 'compulsory telephone gateway' in order to qualify for what little legal aid funding remains, a process which Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson highlighted as grossly unfair and unlikely to save the MOJ any money at all.

I am not a particular fan of the upper house in Parliament, being as it is populated by unelected peers, 70% of which have a party affiliation and thus take the whip in most cases. Nevertheless, when it is they upon whom we must rely for a sensible approach to legal reform, I wonder what on earth we did to deserve this situation.

 

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