Update to the profession: Legal aid - write to your MP!

7 May 2013

The Bar Council's General Management Committee, which brings together representatives from across the profession, last week approved public affairs and communications strategies for our campaign of opposition to the wide-ranging changes proposed in the legal aid consultation paper.

Those plans will take us through the period to the end of the consultation on 4 June, and beyond, to the Government's expected decision expected in September. We are now implementing our adopted plan for addressing the Ministry of Justice's proposals.

First and foremost we are responding fully and in the strongest terms both to the criminal and civil proposals made in the consultation paper.

On Friday, I published information about how individual members of the Bar could add fuel to the Bar Council's efforts to make the Coalition Government think again about their proposals.

There are already two live petitions you should support if you have not already done so:

  • http://t.co/W5Dhm938z3 is promoted by the Bar Council and the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, which has an excellent track record of forcing the Government's hand on key issues, and

  • http://t.co/dr6Rr8HTjD is a petition hosted by Number 10 website: if it reaches 100,000 signatures, the petition is referred to the Backbench Business Committee of the House of Commons, which may allocate the issue time for a debate.

With MPs returning to Westminster tomorrow, I am now asking every member of the Bar (whatever their area of practice) to write to their MP, expressing their concern at the consultation paper. Experience and evidence suggests that large numbers of template letters sent to MPs tend to be given less weight than individually prepared responses. Personally drafted letters may have much more impact, particularly if you include reference to your neighbourhood and community.

That's why we have prepared this easy guide for busy practitioners to producing your own bespoke lobbying letter.

Step one: find your MP's name and contact details here - http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ - simply type in your postcode.

Step two: use our new 'Legal Aid Core Case' two-page document to select the points you wish to emphasise in your letter. Make clear that you are a constituent and that you are seeking the assistance of your MP.

Step three: ask the MP to take specific action. There are many things that they can do on your behalf, but here is a selection you might choose from:

  • To agree to meet you to hear your concerns

  • To write to the Secretary of State, Chris Grayling, or the Minister, Lord McNally, raising your concerns

  • To request a meeting with the Secretary of State or the Minister

  • To table written questions about the impact of the changes with the Ministry of Justice

  • To enter the ballot for oral questions with Secretary of State or the Minister [the next Justice oral questions must be tabled by 15 May for answer on 21 May]

  • To raise the issue during The Queen's Speech debates, which follow the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow, Wednesday 8 May

  • To move the issue in an adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate if they win the ballot for one of these slots

  • To raise the issue in the local or national media

  • To apply for a debate with other Members via the Backbench Business Committee, in the time allocated to it, or

  • To be ready to pray against any statutory instruments tabled eventually to give effect to these measure.

Step four: submit your letter and send a copy to me at LAReform@BarCouncil.org.uk, together with any response, so that we can log positive responses with the results of the lobbying that we are co-ordinating centrally from the Bar Council, and with the rest of the profession.

Thank you in advance for your support. It's vital that we get the message out: if implemented these proposals will damage access to justice and they will damage the Bar. Neither is in the public interest. The individual actions of members of the profession will lend real weight to our campaign to oppose these proposals, so please support our campaign.

Maura McGowan QC
Chairman of the Bar