Who is Charlie?  Not #Tories!  Scrapping our Human Rights? No Way!

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Who is Charlie?

Less than a year ago there was a global outcry, about awful scenes in Paris leading to murders. The victims were expressing their right to free speech through the tool of cartoons. All through history  music, poetry, and satire have been arts through which thoughts can be expressed and shared. It is all part of being human. Can you remember when people carried placards saying, “Je Suis Charlie”, and “I am Charlie?”

Demonstrators in Paris unity march

People took to the streets, and were united in horror and determination. As Suzanne Moore commented at the time in the Guardian. She observed that:

Uncertainty is indeed gut-churning, but more and more it is intrinsic to our freedom. Rigidity, finite values, texts that can never be questioned? This is what we must fear. Those drawn to terror cling to an ideology that allows not a glimmer of uncertainty. To doubt is to be weak. Ambiguity is a threat.

At that time, Mr Cameron, defended the rights to free speech, at least is recorded to have supported the cartoon. As such a defender of free speech, I imagine therefore that he will also defend the right to free speech of resident in Bristol, who has used the medium of Art to depict Mr Cameron as a danger to the future of the NHS.

PAY-Tony-DavisThe Daily Mirror reports that Tony Davis, faces prosecution if he refuses to remove it, he could eventually be fined up to £20,000 under the Town and Country Planning Act.

Tony said: “I’ve had a notice of prosecution. If you are a commercial premises you can advertise anything but if you are a private premises you are restricted to a size of 2ft by 3ft.

“But this applies to hoardings – not something that is painted on the wall like mine is.

“Also my question is, what exactly am I meant to be advertising?”

Which brings us to the question of why, when there was such an outrage about the events in Paris last summer, are we facing an onslaught of rights, removal of freedoms of which must be defended. Much of the media, newspapers, the News in BBC is controlled by those who seek to control a population which outnumbers them, and in the UK, a government which does not have the majority support of a population, has power to change laws in a parliament which is supposed to serve the people.

Very adept at distraction policies, or scare-tactics, the BBC is neither, neutral politically, or independent, even though it still is respected by the belief in neutrality by many.  We have asked the question before, Who pulls the strings at the BBC? Now the Guardian reports how Tory officals threatened the BBC during the recent election.

Baldwin writes: “BBC executives and journalists have told me that there were regular, repeated threats from senior Tories during this election campaign about ‘what would happen afterwards’ if they did not fall into line.

He says: “It is a disturbing suggestion that a democratically elected government would seek to stamp on and silence dissent from an independent broadcaster.”

But he claims there “has been a long-standing campaign by the Conservative party, fueled by the commercial interests of sections of the press, to attack the world’s most successful state-funded public service broadcaster as a giant leftwing conspiracy”.

And so they hold power, while the scales of justice are so unbalanced they appear to have have a pivotal screw loose. Power could be easily toppled by exposure of truths and myths which has led to the imbalance of truth. The Tories are terrified at the idea of a collective knowledge of truth. Divide and rule, as always, is their aim. They overcomplicate issues leading to doubt and confusion.

This is why we must defend everyone’s  rights of expression through the Arts, the Internet, Blogs. Even if sometimes we don’t agree with them.

If we have a right of freedom of expression, then we also have a right to access information which our representatives are seeking to cover-up because of their own self interest. We are not talking about securing our safety, and protecting the vulnerable. Throughout history many have founght for our rights, from the Tolpuddle martyrs, to the suffragettes, to those who fought against Nazis in the 20th century.  This is not something to be cast away because Mr Gove has the power.

We must oppose the Conservative Government in their attempt to remove human rights.  Gove plans to scrap the policy of the Human Rights Act (HRA) 

The Human Rights Act is a piece of law, introduced in 1998, that guarantees human rights in Britain. It was introduced as one of the first major reforms of the last Labour government.

In practice, the Act has two main effects. Firstly, it incorporates the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic British law.

What this means is that if someone has a complaint under human rights law they do not have to go to European courts but can get justice from British courts.

Secondly, it requires all public bodies – not just the central government, but institutions like the police, NHS, and local councils – to abide by these human rights.

Which rights does the Act cover?

The Act covers all the rights included in the European Convention.

These rights are: Right to life, right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment, right not to be held as a slave, right to liberty and security of the person, right to a fair trial, right not be retrospectively convicted for a crime, right to a private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly and association, right to marriage, right to an effective remedy, right not to be discriminated against, the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, and the right to an education.

The Act also imposes a duty upon governments to provide free and fair elections. 

38 Degrees Campaign to Save Human Rights Act:

If you haven’t already, please sign now. Link.

Trade treaties like TTIP are arranged in secret because those who will benefit from them are a very small minority, and exposure in the public domain would ensure they would be quashed. There is no wisdom in complacency of belief that in the UK because we are some distance from the incident in Bangladesh where a life was lost just because a man had an opinion, we are therefore safe.

The struggle for free speech, for free inquiry and for the liberty of atheism need not be a fight against religion, unless religion is opposed to human dignity. It is a struggle against cowardice and conformism, and against everyone who would crush both truth and imagination into a cramped coffin of orthodoxy.

Protection of rights, freedoms, and those whistleblowers who dare to speak out is tantamount in preserving the last chance for the voices of the people to be heard and shared – if indeed it is not too late for democracy to have a voice at all.

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The Coming Tyranny and the Legal Aid Bill

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The Coming Tyranny and the Legal Aid Bill

from KittySJones

legal Aid

“Ministers keep using the mantra that their proposals are to protect the most vulnerable when, quite obviously, they are the exact opposite. If implemented their measures would, far from protecting the most vulnerable, directly harm them. Whatever they do in the end, Her Majesty’s Government should stop this 1984 Orwellian-type misuse of language.”  – Lord Bach, discussing the Legal Aid Bill.

Source: Hansard, Column 1557, 19 May, 2011.  

The Ministry of Justice’s “reforms” (Tory-speak for cuts) to legal aid undermine the fundamental principle of legal  equality and breach Article 6(1of the European Convention of Human Rights: the right to a fair trial. They reflect a truly authoritarian agenda of legislative tyranny: the reforms effectively remove legal access for many, crucially that access ultimately safeguards individual liberty against intrusion by the State, and protects us from despotic abuses of authority.

The cuts will seriously undermine access to justice and sidestep the obligation of Government accountability. The cuts will affect the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society and allow unlawful and unfair public body decision-making to go unchallenged.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s analysis in 2012 warned that reducing the scope of legal aid in a substantial number of areas in civil and family law will create serious practical barriers to access to justice, potentially in breach of Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The cuts to the civil legal aid budget, which came in to effect from April 2013, mean many cases, including those about debt, private family law, employment, welfare benefits, clinical negligence and housing problems are no longer eligible for funding.

This is at a time when the Government have implemented other radical, controversial and contentious cuts to health, education and welfare, and it is no coincidence that the legal aid Bill will curtail justice for those with legitimate needs at a time when draconian Tory policies such as the bedroom tax will most likely result in a massive increase of numbers of people needing and seeking redress.

This will mean the compounding of effects of other fundamental  human rights breaches, legally unchecked, because of the profound impact of multiple, grossly unfair and unjust Tory-led policies. Each policy hitting the same vulnerable citizens, to their detriment, over and over.

This sends out a truly horrific message to those of us who believed we lived in a first world liberal democracy  (one that has recognition of  individual rights and freedoms embedded in its’ Constitution, and one in which decisions from direct or representative processes prevail in State policies.)

The promotion of equal opportunity to legal justice is the bedrock of a free and democratic society. It ought to be inclusive of all who cannot afford to be tried fairly. The reality is only a few can afford the legal costs to enforce contracts and against criminal prosecution. This profoundly unjust inequality is not something we expect to see in a Country which was once a beacon of Western liberty.

The only way to wed the principle of a “pursuit of economic liberty” with wider justice is by a basic notion of equality before the law, through the equal access to justice. This means that the State must fund the means of contract enforcement and free and fair trial legal costs, for those who cannot afford it. If the State fails to fulfil this contingent function, then we simply cease to be free.

  • “Legal aid will continue to be provided to those who most need it, such as where domestic violence is involved, where people’s life or liberty is at stake or the loss of their home. But in cases like divorce, courts should be a last resort, not first. Evidence shows that mediation can often be more successful and less expensive for all involved.”  –  Chris Grayling.
  • Section 10 of LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) provides the new Director of legal aid casework with the power to provide ‘exceptional funding’ for cases that are out of scope.
  • Part 8 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 indicates that providers of legal services will not have delegated powers to grant exceptional funding of the Human Rights Act 1998), or any rights of the individual to the provision of legal services that are enforceable EU rights, or that it is appropriate to do so, in the particular circumstances of the case, having regard to any risk that failure to do so would be such a breach.

This misses a very crucial point: it’s very dangerous to allow the State to decide which cases constitute the most need. In a free, democratic and fair Society, each and every single individual has equal legal worth and entitlement to opportunity to bring about legal justice.

The Government choosing which cases are most “worthwhile” undermines this very premise of legal equality which is so fundamental to the notion of liberty. Everybody has a right to take any grievances they have, which have invoked legal ramifications, to court. Everybody ought to have an absolute, inalienable right to free and fair trial in a free, democratic and liberal country.

Having cut the civil legal aid budget by £320m, the Ministry of Justice proposes to cut the criminal legal aid budget by a further £220m. Legal contracts are to be based on competitive tendering. One of the outcomes of the reform and cut to the budget is that defendants on legal aid will no longer be offered a choice of solicitor.

One of the most unfair aspects of this system is that if you are charged, the State will select a prosecutor with specialist experience in that area of the law, funded by the taxpayer. Be it a sexual offences case, a road traffic death, a murder, a drugs case or a serious assault, in each case, a prosecutor will be picked to prosecute you from a specialist team.

But when it comes to your defending yourself, however, you will be given no choice. You will either have the defence lawyer allocated by the State or you will be on your own. This cannot be right. Many legal experts have voiced their alarm at this, because it will  invariably lead to gross injustices.

Large commercial firms who are going to be paid, win or lose, will have a vested interest to encourage their clients to plead guilty, whether they are or not. At a time when people are at their most vulnerable they need a local service that listens, not a business, whose goal will be to turn around the case as fast and cheaply as possible.

The scope for dangerous consequences due to vested interests in the justice system following Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s “reforms” is considerable, and allows potential for further erosion of legal freedom. In some cases,  the sole choice of lawyer for a defendant via legal aid will also be a representative for the organisation with an interest in ensuring a prosecution.

The  tendering process – where the cheapest bid wins – would be run by companies with no record of providing legal services, resulting in a dumbing down of the profession and a race to the bottom that will mean  people being denied access to quality legal aid.

As is always the case when private companies that are driven solely by the  profit motive are involved in any service, cases will be run on the cheap by under-qualified, inexperienced, low-cost staff.  The company Serco, for example, provides prison security guards.

Serco is one company bidding for the legal contracts with the Legal Aid Agency. The Department of Justice has proposed to remove defendants’ automatic right to select their own solicitors to make the contracts to bidders more profitable.

I have no doubt that the Coalition wants to see access to justice removed for those affected by its nightmarish, dystopian policies. Those people affected most of all are our vulnerable citizens, as the cuts have been disproportionately aimed at sick and disabled people, and those who are unemployed.

We need look no further than Clause 99 of the welfare “reform” Act to see how silencing those seeking redress is a priority for this Government. This is also about hiding the evidence of the dire consequences of the  ”reforms”, since large numbers of successful appeal outcomes highlight, for example, that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is grossly unfair and widely inaccurate.

Yet despite almost 11,000 deaths that have been attributed to people being wrongfully assessed, the Government have not even instigated an inquiry into the WCA. Had an auto-mobile been associated with such a high number of deaths, it would have been withdrawn. Yet we still have the WCA, and incredibly, no willingness for an investigation from our perennially indifferent Tory-led Government.

Those wishing to appeal wrongful decisions by Atos/The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that they are “fit for work” after having their Employment Support Allowance (ESA) unfairly  removed will find that this will be an almost impossible task, since their right to legal aid has been removed. The introduction of the  Mandatory Review in Clause 99 will mean that they have to wait an indefinite period without any ESA sickness benefit, or claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), whilst waiting for the DWP to conduct the review, with no time limit imposed on the DWP to do so.

That means signing on and declaring that you are fit  for work, and people are being told by the DWP, unbelievably, that they don’t qualify because they are not fit, or fully available for work. Others have been told that to claim JSA they need to close their ESA claim which means they cannot appeal a review decision. Basic rate ESA is exactly the same amount of money as JSA, so the Government cannot even claim this is a cost-cutting move.

And we also know that Atos are contracted by the Government to make “wrongful” decisions.

The right to a lawyer of a persons’ choice, regardless of your income, race, gender or nationality, is an underpinning condition of a free and fair justice system. Having both a sense of, and access to choice, over one’s legal representative, who is there to fight for justice is paramount to basic legal equality and liberty. When this choice is removed and legal representation is essentially imposed on a passive defendant by the State (if a defendant can still access legal aid at all, that is,) our justice system becomes unacceptably authoritarian.

And it has.

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Update
A response to this article from the International Human Rights Commission: “The IHRC strongly condemned the Bill and asked the UK Government to consider this action, which is against the norm of human rights”.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent artwork 

Further reading:

Guidance on the exceptional funding regime

The Public Law Project scheme to assist people with making exceptional funding applications

Government lawyers warn Justice Secretary Chris Grayling over proposed ‘unconscionable’ changes to legal aid

Cutting Legal Aid – the surest way to threaten Justice 

John Finnemore on The Now Show, discussing the injustice of the Legal Aid Bill