Monday, April 02, 2007

Access to justice is a trade union issue

I was recently reminded, by the sad and untimely death of a good friend, of an industrial dispute in 1991 when a few of us in Lambeth NALGO spent ten weeks occupying two advice centres threatened with closure, eventually saving one of them and keeping it open for five years more than originally planned before spending cuts finally did for it.

Over the years I have seen Council funded advice services pretty much eliminated, and funding for voluntary advice services cut back – with the services far more limited and controlled by the funding body.

Now the Government’s attacks on legal aid services – and the response of some law firms - threaten to leave many people with no affordable access to justice at all. As trade unionists we do have some access to legal assistance – and not just in connection with work related matters.

Those of us who work in public services will see first hand the damage that could be done to those excluded from access to justice – we need to be pressing the Government to return to the principle that we should all have the opportunity to enforce our legal rights – not just those who can afford to. We don't only care for our own members. A decent trade union movement cares for the interests of all workers - and all those who rely on public services.

With a large majority of workers in this country outside the ranks of the trade unions we ought to be concerned to see great holes appearing in this legal safety net. Unless I have missed it, these problems do not appear to be addressed by motions on the Preliminary Agenda for UNISON Conference…

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