The poor and vulnerable will lose out most from the new Justice Bill

Jonny Mulligan of the Sound Off For Justice campaign looks at who will really pay the price of the government's new Justice Bill, debated before the Commons today.

By Jonny Mulligan of the Sound Off For Justice campaign

This morning Sound Off For Justice launches its interim report (pdf) in response to the government’s Justice Bill. Our findings are very straightforward and we have put forward nineteen questions we believe the government must answer.

Here are some of the consequences of the Justice Bill:

• Cuts in civil legal aid will increase criminality and damage social cohesion;

• Cuts in civil legal aid will penalise the victims of crime and not the perpetrators;

• Clause 12 will undermine a cornerstone of our justice system;

• The Jackson reforms will increase costs to businesses, to government departments and the taxpayer as well as raid the damages of victims of serious injury by up to 25%;

• Plans in clause 52 will cap the compensation people receive when they have been wrongfully prosecuted by the state.

If David Cameron claims to be listening then we need him to come good on his word. If he was then he would understand that our plan will cut £384 million from the legal aid budget – £34 million above his target – but still protect the most vulnerable.

The Justice Bill is littered with mistakes, inaccuracies and lacks detailed impact assessments. The figures and calculations the government have used for the Justice Bill are based on assumptions rather than evidence. The government have tried to say we need the cuts because we have the ‘most expensive legal system in the world’. We do not. This is simply not true.

This Bill leaves our civil justice system at the edge of an abyss beyond which we do not know where we are destined.

One thing that is clear is the justice minister certainly does not appear to be listening to us or giving our ideas the consideration we believe they deserve. The coalition calls it the new Justice Bill – we call it the “Injustice Bill” because we believe it will disadvantage the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community more than any others.

Later this morning before Prime Minister’s Questions we will gather outside Parliament on Westminster Green with our partners and people who have benefitted from legal aid to try and get our voices heard by MPs before they go to the debate. There will be real people with real lives there. They are people like Clare Hook who fought a six-year battle – funded by legal aid – for her daughter’s education after her local authority refused the support she needed.

They are people like Andrew Green who was born in 1997 with cerebral palsy due to delays in dealing with complications during childbirth in Grimsby Maternity Hospital. It was only thanks to the support he received from the charity Action against Medical Accidents that Andrew and his family were able to put their lives back together.

It is cases real cases like these with real people and real families that MPs must think of when discussing legal aid and the impact their cuts will have. Politicians of all sides must understand the reality of the impact of these cuts. It is time to look outside the Westminster village and get real with this debate. It is time for parliamentarians to start understanding the huge impact on everyday normal lives and families these cuts will have.

Frustration with the government has intensified because the government refuses to listen. The proposals in this bill will not penalise those who trample on people’s rights, and they will be free to abuse their victims again and again and again. The government is attacking the innocent and not the perpetrators.

The people who will suffer are the weak and the vulnerable. It will be the babies seriously injured in accidents during their birth, for whom there will be no civil legal aid to secure compensation. It will be the woman looking after her disabled mother, who can no longer get advice when her carer’s benefit is wrongly stopped. It will be the man whose ex-wife will no longer let him see his children.

If the prime minister and his government continue upon the path they are on they will create a two-tier justice system; there will be one for the very rich who can afford representation before the courts and none for the rest of us.

The prime minister wants to be tough on crime and make our society safer. In cutting legal aid he is only being tough on the vulnerable and the victims. As a society we are at risk of taking a step backwards. We are creating the conditions for inequality and injustice to breed. Instead of reducing crime we will increase crime and damage social cohesion. The government and the Ministry for Justice will be held accountable for the outcome.

We urge you to sign the petition and join sound off for justice.

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