If the Government gets its way, the legal aid system in England and Wales is about to be cut beyond all recognition; with funding disappearing for entire areas of vital advice and representation. Most cases involving employment or welfare benefits will no longer be covered. Financial support for legal problems involving debt, immigration or family breakdown will also go out of the Treasury window.
Thanksgiving services are always moving, but I’ve never been to one quite like the service in Westminster Abbey for Tom Bingham last night. Among the enormous crowd were family, friends, royalty, politicians and judges, as well as a strong contingent of Liberty staff. The service gave a touching picture of his family life and love for music and literature, as well as the stellar judicial career we are more familiar with.
We have a new Supreme Court judgment, almost exactly ten years since the law was changed, on 11 May 2001, to permit the police to hold forever the DNA of everyone arrested, irrespective of their guilt. One of the most pernicious consequences of this policy has been the massive over-representation of black people on the DNA database, since they are much more likely than white people to be arrested, although no more likely to be convicted.
Today the much-maligned European Court of Human Rights gave its ruling in the case of Mosley v UK. One can only hope that the court’s judges, not to mention the Convention itself, get some credit from political and media giants for cherishing press freedom as much as personal privacy. The truth is that both human rights values are vital in a democracy, both equally liable to attack by an authoritarian regime seeking to suppress dissent.
With the Government’s austerity measures beginning to kick in, protest and the authorities’ response to it is becoming an even bigger issue for Liberty. Much of our concern is focused on police heavy-handedness (kettling, pre-emptive action to prevent embarrassing protests) but what about circumstances when the police are too “light-handed” and refuse to provide any support to protesters?
Last Saturday saw Liberty’s independent legal observers out in force again, this time at the request of family members of Smiley Culture, the reggae star who died during a police raid on his house in March this year.
A lot of tough talk lately from Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, of “putting heads and teachers back in control”, “tough new powers” and “zero tolerance” in the classroom. This headline-chasing rhetoric has unfortunately been matched with even harder-edged police-like powers, which the Government plans to roll out to teachers across England and Wales.
At the joint invitation of the TUC and Metropolitan Police, Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties) posted around 130 independent legal observers to monitor the policing of the March for the Alternative.