Legal aid: The dismantling of a principle?

On 26 October 1945, Mr Marcus Lipton, OBE, spoke emotively in the House of Commons about “the provision of legal aid for poor persons”.

The Labour Party MP for the Lambeth Brixton constituency from 1945 to 1974 told members that it “must be regarded as an essential contribution towards improved social services”.

He went on to mention how the Army Council introduced the scheme to assist servicemen and women in their “civil affairs” in 1942.

To further underline the vital importance of legal aid, Mr Lipton used a principle built into the Magna Carta: “To none will we refuse or delay right or justice.”

The swingeing £350m cuts proposed by Kenneth Clarke, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, will dismantle that very principle by leaving those without means with no way of obtaining redress of grievances.

It is no wonder that alarm has been raised by some of the most unlikely voices.

When anybody mentions Lord Tebbit, I immediately think of his no-nonsense get-on-your-bike speech directed at the unemployed in the 80s.

Yet the former Tory minister and ex-MP for Chingford has told The Guardian Newspaper that the planned cuts could be “going too far”.

He is openly supporting amendments ensuring minors or parents on their behalf are entitled to legal aid when pursuing medical negligence claims.

At a time when the disparity between the rich and the poor grows ever more vast, the planned cuts raise awkward questions about the link between obtaining justice, our legal system and having access to immense wealth.

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Ten years after 9/11 Westerners ‘still vulnerable’

“We are the centre of our own universe.”

This statement sprang to my mind as I watched some Afghanistan farmers looking nonplussed when confronted with graphic photographs showing the burning twin towers of the World Trade Centre on Channel 4 News.

“When you can’t feed or house yourself,” as one US soldier, based in the country where Al-Qaida orchestrated these atrocities, aptly articulated. “How are you going to care about somebody 6,000 miles away? So I can understand that.”

Only a police district chief recognised the images after scrutinising the prints.

I wasn’t surprised at all. For the last 10 days the UK has been remembering the 9/11 suicide attacks which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, including 67 Britons.

For my generation it is our “JFK moment”.

What were you doing when out of the clear blue sky two planes flew into two iconic buildings that had not only dominated the Manhattan skyline for nearly 30 years but were also symbols of US wealth and invincibility?

I was carrying out pedestrian research on restaurants offering the best deals for students ahead of “Freshers week” on the day the Western world stopped.

I returned to my newsroom to discover it had turned into Madame Tussaud’s with every single member of staff imitating wax works, their eyes glued to TV screens. Even the affable and loquacious receptionists sat mute.

When I glanced at the images on the screen, I initially assumed they were engrossed in an action film.

After all, the footage resembled anything Sly Stone could have produced.

But, no, these pictures conveyed reality. New York was under attack and another plane was heading for the seat for power – the Pentagon.

When I arrived home still in shock, along with the rest of country, I sat transfixed in front of my own television.

How could this happen? Who was behind it? Who would be next?

The answers to my questions were unpalatable.

The audacious terrorist assault in 2001 set in motion a chain of events, including the “War on Terror”, which continue to impact on our daily lives.

In 2005, 52 Londoners died in 7/7. But has the “War on Terror” made the world a safer place? Not according to the International Business Times.

Meanwhile, America has warned of a “specific, credible threat” ahead of the anniversary with security boosted in New York and Washington, the BBC news website writes.

Post 9/11 Westerners carry on but not as before. We have become accustomed to a vulnerability which wealth and materialism cannot protect us from.

Parents in the dock after England riots

Ironically, it was International Youth Day on Friday. The annual event is supposed to serve as a global reminder of how precious new generations are.

Babatunde Osotimehin, director of the United Nations Population Fund – an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity – suggests dialogue with young people is the way forward .

In a message on the UNPFA’s website, Dr Osotimehin said:

Today on International Youth Day, and every day, youth should be able to participate in decision-making in their families, communities, and nations.

The voices of youth should be heard in meetings within governments and within the United Nations.

Yes, youth participation is a matter of human rights and it is also a matter of being effective at addressing the challenges that we face as humanity.

In our world today there are 1.8 billion young people aged 10 to 24.

When societies embrace youth as partners, we improve our chances of finding solutions to our most pressing problems.

Today too many young people are deprived of opportunities, peace and stability.

As never before, youth are bombarded with sexually explicit images. There is a growing need for sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services that meet the needs of young people.”

The UNPFA’s goal is to reduce extreme poverty by 2015, by focusing on three core areas of work “reproductive health, gender equality and population and development strategies” which, it says, are “inextricably related”.

In the aftermath of the England Riots the spotlight has turned to familial responsibility.

The blame is being laid at the door of so-called “dysfunctional families”.

And, judging from all the scathing comments, statements and finger-wagging this includes single parents, unemployed parents, young mothers and errant fathers.

The family should be the foundation from which each child springs from into the world.

But to surmise this whole shameful episode is a result of bad or non-existent parenting is at best too simplistic and at worse disingenuous.

Below are several definitions for the word: society.

a. The totality of social relationships among humans.

b. A group of humans broadly distinguished from other groups by mutual interests, participation in characteristic relationships, shared institutions, and a common culture.

c. The institutions and culture of a distinct self-perpetuating group.

2. An organisation or association of persons engaged in a common profession, activity, or interest:

3.a. The rich, privileged, and fashionable social class.

b. The socially dominant members of a community.

4. Companionship; company:

5. Biology A colony or community of organisms, usually of the same species

The clean-up campaigns taking place across England and the selfless words from bereaved father Tariq Jahan, whose son, Haroon, was killed in a hit-and-run incident during the riots in Winson Green, Birmingham on Wednesday, serve as reminders of what is great about England.

So-called educated people representing different schools of thought taking to denigrating other races and cultures as well as each other on television is both unhelpful and irresponsible.

Resorting to labelling or pigeonholing certain sections of society is regressive and tired. In fact, I can feel ennui setting in. 

Let us dispense with the name calling and get on with the business of rebuilding a society we can all take pride in.

Society goes up in smoke in England riots

As I sat down to write this post, two 30-something men walked past my window.

I caught the tail end of their animated conversation. “Look at the riots,” one of them exclaimed. “It just goes to show we have the power not the government.”

I disagree. An orgy of looting and violence is not just “sheer criminality” it is the action of the powerless.

Ingredients for a riot: take a huge dollop of frustration, add an unstable economy and high unemployment, along with an even bigger dollop of desperation. Then spoon in some rage and bake in the searing heat.

Many people not just in the UK but around the globe will easily separate themselves from the rioters/criminals.

And, of course, they can. They are law abiding citizens, they are educated, they are employed and take home an income which allows them to indulge in the finer things in life.

Yes, they are far removed from these so-called “animals” and “feral rats”.

But if we pause and really think about what one young woman in Birmingham told a news channel it becomes harder to dismiss these people as “just opportunist thugs”.

Asked how she perceived her local police force, she responded: “They don’t respect me so I don’t respect them.”

Respect is fundamental for a human being.

When a person is respected he or she possesses the power to influence people and shape his or her own destiny.

For some people in our society basic respect is automatic for others life is not so straightforward.

These people are invisible and become visible only when they act outside of the law.

The mindless violence and criminal damage which has swept across Britain is inexcusable.

It has already claimed a life – a 26-year-old man was shot in his car last night – and left many families homeless. Shop owners have witnessed their livelihoods going up in flames.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said every perpetrator will quite rightly feel the full force of the law.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Michael Gove has blamed the riots on “tribal allegiances and gangs”.

Real change comes with addressing the cause not just the effect.

Columnist Mary Riddell wrote in the Telegraph (London riots: the underclass lashes out):

Today, Britain is less equal, in wages, wealth and life chances, than at any time since then. Last year alone, the combined fortunes of the 1,000 richest people in Britain rose by 30 per cent to £333.5 billion.”

Tonight a police station in Nottingham was firebombed.

Can this country really afford to continue to have a huge section of society which is rudderless, disaffected and roaming the streets?