THE BLOG
25/11/2011 06:29 GMT | Updated 24/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Parliament Rips Government's Justice Reform Mandate to Shreds

As we approach potentially the largest general strike in decades on 30 November, those who support unionised workers will face off against a government so myopic in pursuit of deficit reduction that it has lost sight of its obligations.

As we approach potentially the largest general strike in decades on 30 November, those who support unionised workers will face off against a government so myopic in pursuit of deficit reduction that it has lost sight of its obligations.

Right now, the country's leadership wishes to reduce capital expenditure and cut the overdraft, but is allowing hard fought rights and protections to be squandered in the process.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the progress of a bill which if passed in its present form, would have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable people in society.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill, or #LASPO as it's become known on twitter proposes amongst other things, to remove the rights of women in domestic violence cases from receiving legal aid; to eradicate the use of 'no-win-no-fee' leaving victims of diseases like asbestosis with scant recourse against employers who negligently exposed them to deadly substances in the workplace, or the likes of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler's parents, who could not have afforded their recent legal action against News International without it.

These were just a small handful of examples which were eloquently placed before the government by members of the House of Lords on 21st November, when 51 out of 54 Peers who spoke on the subject vehemently criticised the LASPO Bill as it stood after a second reading.

Lord Davidson was one such critic: "The cuts to legal aid and the reduction of damages that victims receive are contiguous assaults on access to justice for both the most impecunious in society and those of moderate means," he said.

There were many similar declarations but what surprises me most is that the government appears to have become so far removed from the needs of vulnerable people that it now also needs to hear shock evidence to hold it back from making these repeals. Baroness King of Bow told the story of Jeanie who was thrown down the stairs by her husband late in her pregnancy. "She gave birth at the bottom of her stairs to a still-born child. Eventually, on a subsequent occasion when her husband cracked her skull, she received legal aid and was able to escape with her children and prosecute him for GBH."

We live in an age where neo-conservative and thinly veiled corporate interests have hijacked the legislative agenda, allowing governments to be swayed into thinking that by removing certain rights from individuals, the impact on The Treasury's bottom line will be positive. For example, the proposed removal of no-win-no-fee has been driven by a powerful insurance lobby hoping to reduce the likelihood of civil legal actions with a consequent impact on its own liabilities; insurers are in good company as the press would continue to enjoy free reign to publish and be damned, safe in the knowledge that a whisper of apology will often be the harshest sanction it faces once libel actions against newspapers become impossible to self-finance, except by celebrities or corporations themselves.

And finally, for working people whose pensions have been placed under permanent review or whose jobs now offer them limited security; these are the people whose very membership of the unions created to protect them around a legal system designed to favour the rights of the individual, are now vilified as the foot-dragging drain on resources portrayed by newspapers such as the Sun or the Daily Mail.

So far, the lobbying has worked. The draft legislation is in place and there is a concerted effort underway to shift rights away from individuals and vulnerable people through draft legislation such as the LASPO Bill. Sound off For Justice has created an online petition to oppose the Government's position and after the bill goes through committee it will have two further readings in the Commons and then the Lords. I urge people to halt its progress in any way they can.