For the bargain (reduced) price of £999, the Global Law Summit invites legal, academic and business minds to indulge in a 3 day event discussing “the Rule of Law as the foundation of the best commercial environment for business growth and for fair societal development”; shrouded in a guise of the celebration of 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
By the time this publication comes out, the event will have long passed and is either a distant memory of something David Cameron thought would look good pre-election, or has revealed some interesting and insightful plans about the future of the legal economy.
The problem is that a massive part of me doesn’t want to know either way. “Fair societal development” is not something that happens exclusively between those who can afford the price tag. All parts of society should be involved in a debate of Magna Carta principles, (access to justice and a right to fair trial), and the Law as a foundation for a strong and prosperous society. The Global Law Summit has not engaged the society that I want to, or should, hear from.
In an attempt to widen the catchment of the debate and in my role as a Director of Big Voice London, I took it into my own hands. Big Voice is a youth project supported by, but independent from, the UK Supreme Court, which aims to give sixth formers a voice in law and legal policy making.
In early February we joined forces with the Criminal Bar Association in an attempt to engage young people in the discussions taking place at the Global Law Summit. After all, these are the people whose futures will be affected by the political decisions we make now. We held a seminar with students from a handful of schools across Greater London to hear their opinions on the application of the justice system in the UK and, inevitably, the fairness of the Legal Aid system.
Junior barristers from the CBA discussed with the students the application of the legal system to real life scenarios: a teenager who sent pornographic images online; a young woman on the brink of deportation; and a victim of a motorcycle accident who could no longer afford palliative care. What happens to these people if Legal Aid disappears, how do they find justice?
Arguably yes, it is a simplified debate about the future of the Magna Carta principles, but it is a very real and relatable one for some of these students who come from areas of London that are labelled “disadvantaged”. Many of them had friends who had experienced the criminal justice system, and had many stories to tell about their treatment by the police. Then again, what teenager hasn’t got a story to tell about the police?
At the end of the evening we split the students into two teams; for and against Legal Aid. It isn’t hard to guess which one was argued for more passionately, more effectively and with less grumbles of “it’s so difficult though, they have all the good arguments”.
I suppose my point is an obvious one; the merits of Legal Aid are so many that even arguing against it with a sixth former becomes incredibly tough. The Global Law Summit is in danger of being yet another political tool that forgets that there are so many other parts of society that deserve a much greater say.
If you can celebrate the Magna Carta’s few remaining principles so passionately, whilst attempting to justify cuts that make those principles seem even more irrelevant, then you should be charging £10 a ticket, not £999. These cuts affect such intelligent young people, enough that they want to yell about it, so perhaps next time it would be nice if you invited them to celebrate too. I know they’d make you listen.
Emily Lanham is a Director of Big Voice London (www.bigvoicelondon.com). The project’s aim is to enable sixth formers around London to have a voice in legal policy; exploring issues of legal identity, access to justice and the legitimacy of the UK legal system.
By Emily Lanham, Director, Big Voice London