Actress Emma Thompson, political scholar Noam Chomsky and the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, have thrown their weight behind a campaign against legal aid cuts. Film director Ken Loach, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and former actress and human rights advocate Bianca Jagger are among other high-profile figures to send messages to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, calling on the Liberal Democrats to press for a halt to changes to legal aid.
Around 3,000 people from across the UK have signed specially-designed postcards, which will be delivered tomorrow to the Liberal Democrat headquarters in Westminster, London, as part of a campaign from the organisation Save Justice. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's reforms will see prisoners' access to legal aid limited, a household disposable income threshold for criminal legal aid introduced and set out proposals for reducing the cost of fees for representation.
Grayling hopes the proposals will deliver savings of £220 million per year by 2018/19. A spokesman for Save Justice said: "These complex proposals are being rushed through without a proper debate in Parliament, while within just a few weeks we have collected the voices of thousands of people around the country who all agree that the proposals are illiberal and undemocratic."
"If unopposed, they would not only do significant damage to the reputation of the UK's justice system internationally, but in many cases a proper analysis shows us they would end up costing more money than they are supposed to save." The delivery of the postcards comes after Lib Dem members voted at their party conference in favour of party leaders calling for a halt to any further legal aid cuts.
An open letter has also been sent to Mr Clegg condemning the cuts signed by more than 120 charities and organisations, including Amnesty international, Liberty and the Children's Society.
James Welch, legal director of Liberty, has said: "Legal protections are meaningless if people can't access effective legal representation.
"The current proposals put justice beyond the reach of the most vulnerable and put the fairness of our criminal justice system in serious jeopardy."
Save Justice is a group of lawyers and non-lawyers campaigning against proposals to change legal aid.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "We have undertaken extensive public consultation on legal aid reform since April. We have listened to what people had to say and the proof is in the revisions made to the original proposals. At around £2 billion a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world, and this type of cost is no longer affordable or fair to the hard-working taxpayers who pay for it.
"With just five barristers earning £2.2 million between them recently and one, single, 'very High Cost case' costing over £8.5 million we have to look at how we pay for legal aid. We agree legal aid is important and are making changes to ensure it remains available to those who most need it."