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Canterbury Magistrates Court is a focal point of attention for protests against Legal Aid cuts

By Alex Claridge

Striking solicitors and probation officers protested outside Canterbury Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

Around 50 protesters gathered at the Broad Street building to attack government reductions in the Legal Aid budget.

They argue the spending cuts will deny defendants access to justice in the magistrates courts as well as in other areas of the law including employment tribunals.

Ian Bond, of Burgate criminal defence lawyers Bond Joseph, said: “Courts have the power make decisions which affect someone’s life forever.

“The courts are not just full of shoplifters. We are talking about people who might have been involved in an accident and are being held , a vulnerable person who is unable to state their case or someone who has been falsely accused of a crime.

“These people will find that they are not represented when the prosecution will always have a state-funded representative in court.”

Tuesday’s second day of striking is in response to the Ministry of Justice’s intention to save £215 million from the annual legal aid budget by 2018-19.

Most law firms refused to send their staff to the magistrates court in Canterbury, although one firm continued to work.

Barristers working at Crown Courts called off industrial action after striking a deal with the government last week.

But solicitors working in the lower courts remain most affected by spending cuts.

Mr Bond says the cuts will lead to a lower quality of legal representatives.

“If allowed, the government will create large businesses, cartels,” Mr Bond said.

“These businesses will be under huge pressure to deal with a large volume of cases.

“These businesses will, inevitably, be motivated by market forces rather than the interests of justice. The government is in the process of creating monopolies at the expense of the public interest.

“Justice will be available to less and less of the most vulnerable members of society.

“Once these cartels have control of the market the government will be powerless to intervene and it will have given away, abandoned, yet more of this country’s strengths – fundamental fairness, the right to be heard, the right not to be bullied by the state.”

Probation officers, law students and left-wing protest groups joined the lawyers outside Canterbury Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

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