Thursday, 1 September 2011

40 years

It took this country 40 years to build a network of Law Centres.

In the late 60's and early 70's we copied the US and set up charities in barber shops and empty office space. We had weird hair, might have worn bell-bottoms, and listened to the Rolling Stones.

We forced slum landlords to toe the line, we bailed out wave after wave of women striking for equal pay. The Notting Hill Riots happened and the laws got better. Racial equality and sexual discrimination laws were passed, and that helped.

Jimmy Hendrix altered the electrical guitar forever.

In the 80's and 90's Law Centres mushroomed. It was found that giving poor people legal rights that could be enforced massively improved their social outcomes. I mean, what's the law for unless the underdog has a voice too?

I spent some time in Slimelight, painted bone white, wearing rubber and lace. Chrissie Hynde, Souxsie Sue, Kurt Cobain.

In the naughties we had human rights law. The right to a fair trial. The right not to be tortured. Respect for the home and family. Common decency arguments. What's so un-British about that?

In the tweens they're shutting us all down. All the basic advice for people who haven't got the right papers.

The new crime and legal aid bill will destroy us. Social welfare law as a discipline will become almost extinct. Housing, family, benefits, immigration, all dumped.

I'm not just cheer-leading for Law Centres. The legal aid safety net is woven of private firms, Law Centres, CAB's. All of us will be affected, but most of all the blow will fall on poor people facing acute problems who will have nowhere to turn to.

It's not too late. At the third reading of the bill we need 83 MP's to change their vote. If you have any faith in the idea of justice, common decency and fair play, please write.

It took this country 40 years to build something right. In 2 years it will be destroyed. Whatever your musical preference, please stick up for Law Centres and Legal Aid.

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