Walking in a sea of 15,000 lawyers on the London Legal Walk was a surreal experience. We were walking for a cause, the right to access justice. Many people cannot afford to pay for advice and representation and the London Legal Walk aims to help people overcome the considerable barrier that poses. The large numbers of lawyers and other supporters who turned out to walk along the embankment, down the Mall, past Buckingham Palace and through Hyde Park to loop back to the Royal Courts of Justice must have presented a strange sight. As there were far more lay people going about their daily lives, a little perplexed by this odd spectacle on a sunny afternoon.
Now on this walk as you can imagine, many things popped into my head, from the usual organisational worries to the mundane. Such as thinking towards the end of 10k of walking around London’s hard streets, ‘oh my feet hurt’! Or was our t-shirt logo big enough, did people understand what we do as charity? I think I can say as 5’ 2’’ and a BIT woman when your upper body is 85% logo, the big logo box was ticked.
However, what struck me most was wondering whether the people we passed going about their daily lives understood why we ‘the lawyers’ and Leducate are doing this. I came to the conclusion that, while for many it would not be their first or even occasional thought, most people understand and would agree that access to legal advice, representation and justice is a basic right. The need for simple justice is self-evident. However, do people understand the legal mist that surround all our lives and quite how legalistic the world is becoming? Do they comprehend the spread of laws, rights and legal obligations in their daily lives?
A person wakes up in their bed at home
Their bed: do they own it outright or was it bought on credit? Each comes with different obligations, the bed is subject to implied terms as to fitness and consumer legislation and regulations on it being fire retardant. Their house: is it rented or mortgaged? In either case there is always the problem of falling into arrears and court proceedings beginning.
After waking this person boils the kettle for a comforting morning cup of coffee or tea.
This kettle is powered by electricity supplied by a utilities provider. You have a contract with that utilities provider. Now due to money troubles, or your landlord not telling you the electricity was your responsibility, you don’t pay the bills. This ends up in court either as bankruptcy proceedings or a small claim.
You drive to work in a financed car
You can see the trend here but if you miss payments and do not make payment arrangements, your contract is terminated and the finance company takes you to court. You then possibly end up losing your car and it takes you an extra 40 minutes to get to work.
You are employed under an employment contract
Within your daily duties your feel that you are being harassed, discriminated against or unfairly treated by a colleague or someone in senior management. Do you know you have contractual mechanisms and legal protections to provide remedies in those situations?
You go to the gym, pick your child up from an after-school activity, go to a restaurant or bar with your partner or for a client meeting. There you hurt yourself due to someone else’s negligence and/or recklessness. Even worse, their criminal behaviour. Either of those could end up going through a legal process.
At the weekend
You speak to your sister and she regales you with her current family struggles as she is going through a divorce, her fighting with council about the care of her severely disabled child, or gossips about the old friend from school who is struggling to keep her children from going into care after her struggles with mental health.
Going to dinner with a few friends
You end up in heated debated about the council’s recycling systems in your area and why there aren’t stronger laws in place to control the use of plastics and how they can be recycled.
Finally, on Sunday
You visit your parents. You are starting to worry about your father, who has always organised the family finances. He is losing his faculties slightly and you wonder whether he has the mental capacity to deal with finances. How do you go about protecting him and the rest of the family?
All these mundane experiences highlight how the law envelopes you in a legal mist. A mist that without legal advice and at times representation, it very hard to see through. Now the London legal walk was not designed to draw attention to these individual issues but to rightly highlight that legal aid is an ever-dwindling resource, threatening access to simple justice. However, we need to start considering this legal mist that surrounds us by starting to educate the public about the tangled legal elements within our lives and how they affect us. Most importantly we at Leducate believe that we need to start educating future generations whilst in school, preparing them for our legalised world and demystifying the legal constructs in our lives. Not least as a means of mitigating the effects of legal aid cuts, but also to allow people to have greater agency in their lives.
Written by Ceri Blower