In 2013 local Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes joined the Coalition Government as Minister for Justice. This was despite having previously pledged not to join the Tory-led administration.
Whilst Lib Dems breaking promises should no longer surprise us, Hughes' ministerial responsibilities include Legal Aid and, in an interview with the local SE1 site, Hughes claimed 'justice and civil liberties' as driving forces for his interest in politics. He also attempted to justify his volte face of joining the Coalition by asking in the Southwark News at the end of 2013, to be judged based on his ministerial management of Legal Aid.
At the time Hughes became Justice Minister, I highlighted that local Citizens Advice Bureaux had lost 15% of their budgets under legal aid cuts previously supported by Hughes. And bureaux cuts meant the equivalent of four full time job losses locally by summer 2013 despite a 40% jump in demand for help (substantially as a result of other Government policies).
I have handled casework for people who have lost out under legal aid cuts, including a mother in Bermondsey seeking protection from a violent ex-partner. She was desperate for help for herself and her children. Legal Aid cuts also resulted in one father in Walworth being denied the chance to fight for access to his children. These people are no longer represented by a Lib Dem MP both people claimed to have supported previously.
There is an almost typical 'Hughes irony' of spending two years cutting access to legal aid to then claim restoring access as a motivation for joining the Government.
But Hughes has now cast aside even this attempt to justify joining Cameron and Clegg in Government by voting for a further cut to Legal Aid. This time victims of sex trafficking into the UK were being made ineligible to receive Legal Aid alongside everyone who could not demonstrate 12 months UK residency. Labour MPs forced a vote in a deferred division against the 12 month residence requirement for people to be able to access Legal Aid. The Government whipped Tory and Lib Dem MPs to deny access to justice.
Hughes is the Minister responsible for this latest Legal Aid cut which will prevent victims of the modern slave trade and even babies under 12 months accessing justice. The vote is recorded online.
Hughes has made some bad decisions since his Lib Dems joined the Tories in 2010. The negative impact of his votes have been felt in Bermondsey and Old Southwark with thousands hit by the bedroom tax, thousands waiting longer for NHS treatments, hundreds of police officers and PCSOs laid off and thousands made reliant on foodbanks.
But cutting access to justice to babies and sex slaves is a cut in the extreme. This latest action in Government is hardly Liberal, hardly just and hardly recognisable from the man elected in 1983.
Time for change. Time for Bermondsey values to be brought back to Parliament.
If you've lost out under Legal Aid cuts please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org - thank you.
If you are a local legal advocate or provide pro bono legal and advice services and would like to serve the local community from our Labour Party office on Tower Bridge Road, please also contact me at email@example.com