Thousands sign petition to protect legal aid

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A LEGAL aid client and a barrister have handed over a petition protesting against the government’s proposed cuts to legal aid to two local MPs.

Housing barrister Phillip Barber and Nicky Wharton, a legally aided client of Chesterfield Law Centre, gave the petition - with contained 15000 signatures from Derbyshire people protesting against the cuts - to Natascha Engel and Toby Perkins outside Chesterfield Magistrates Court on Saturday July 23.

The Justice Bill, currently at parliamentary committee stage will mean that people on low incomes will no longer be eligible at all for legal aid in some areas of law and only entitled to a much reduced service in others.

Barrister Phillip Barber said: “This Bill is bad news for people who have lost their jobs, have Welfare Benefits problems or have multiple debts. All need free legal advice. Without legal aid people on low incomes in Derbyshire will no longer get help to enforce their rights to recover wages owed to them, challenge decisions about their benefits, manage their debts or make their landlords carry out repairs.”

Natascha Engel MP for North East Derbyshire, said: “Our justice policy should be about protecting the public, punishing and reforming offenders, being on the side of the victim and bringing crime down. This bill fails on all these fronts. The Government’s cuts to legal services go too far, too fast and without a clear purpose.”

Chesterfield MP, Toby Perkins, added: “There is a real danger that the failure to listen to the experts will result in the government saving money from one budget and losing a lot more from another. Cuts to legal aid will slow down our legal process as well as making justice increasingly the preserve of the wealthy. It could be that one day history will judge this as the time when justice stopped being available for people on low or modest incomes, and that would be a disgrace in the 21st Century.”

Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover, sent a message of support, saying: “From the beginning to the end I shall be voting against the Legal Aid Reforms. The Legal Aid Bill is an absolute disgrace as it attacks working people’s right to seek free legal advice.”

Case study – Nicky Wharton

Nicky Wharton, a single mother from Dronfield, approached Chesterfield Law Centre after she had been dismissed from her job as a café assistant. While left in charge on her manager’s day off, one of the firm’s directors was abusive to NIcky and humiliated her in front of the customers.

After a subsequent meeting with her manager which ended with Nicky in tears, she was dismissed.

With the Law Centre’s help, Nicky was able to take her case to an Employment Tribunal. It found in Nicky’s favour and awarded her a substantial sum of compensation.

“I was over the moon when I received the good news,” said Nicky. “I felt vindicated. The compensation helped me to clear my overdraft and debts caused by the dismissal last year.”