Alison Gurden, is a lawyer specialising in football supporter law. She was awarded Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year 2012, and has been recognised by the American Civil Liberties Union for her criminal defence work.
It took a judge less than 10 minutes to agree that bail conditions imposed by the police which meant a fan could not leave his home on match days were so unreasonable they should never have been imposed. Had the case not been legally aided the fan would have had to pay privately for the hearing, and would not have received his costs back from the Police even though they later decided not to carry on with the case.
Walking out of the coffee shop at a motorway service station while on his way to a football match, a fan was stopped by the police who wanted to search his car. He agreed, and was then arrested for possession of smoke bombs and other fireworks. At the police station he asked to speak to a football specialist solicitor who advised him that having them in his car was not an offence. A Crown Prosecutor advised the police to charge the fan, but the police, having spoken to the football specialist lawyer, decided to carry out their own research, realised their mistake and released the fan in time for him to get to the match.
Arrested a month after an alleged assault on a steward, a fan was told that a club official had identified him. He denied the assault and at trial it was discovered that the club official had confused the fan with someone else. The legal aid meant that the lawyers could make all the enquiries and applications (which themselves cost money, even if the lawyer gives their time for free) without which the fan would probably have been convicted and faced a prison sentence.
Just this season I have represented apprentices, students, low paid workers, and pensioners. All have three things in common: they are football fans, were entitled to legal aid, and their case was either dropped prior to trial or they were acquitted at trial.
The Government's plans to destroy criminal legal aid will mean that most will no longer be entitled to legal aid, and those who are still able to obtain legal aid will not be able to chose their own lawyer, but instead use a mega firm that has won the Government contract by being the cheapest. In my experience 'cheap' means poor quality, lack of experience and lack of service.
Contrary to the Government press spin, legal aid is not just used by habitual criminals, but also by those who find themselves in the police station and courts through no fault of their own. All of the above were either tax payers or had paid tax during their working life. Is it fair that the Government should be able to take away their right to chose their lawyer and have their legal fees paid if they cannot afford them?
To put it another way: any one of the above examples could have been you.
Legal aid is essential; it protects a person who is prosecuted by the State or allows a challenge to the actions of the State by people on low income. The Government has announced plans to reduce legal aid, effectively taking away these rights. Is it too much to ask that the Government funds a legal system which, for some, may be the last defence between normal life and prison, or being able to drive to a football match rather than being forced to pay for a coach because the Police say so?
What can you do to help?
You can sign the Save UK Justice epetition (epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628), write to your MP, and send me your comments which I will add to my response to the Government consultation.
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Thanks to flickr user Joe Dunckley for the image used in this blog, reproduced under Creative Commons licence.