Monday, 4 July 2011

Legal Aid Bill, Parliament week and the Big Feastival

Last week, just hours before the second reading of the Legal Aid Bill on Wednesday afternoon, the WI was invited to a round table discussion by the Law Society about the detrimental effects the proposed new Act would have on those, who until now, have been eligible to claim legal aid. MPs, Lords and other organisations involved with the work that the current Legal Aid Act occasions were also invited. The WI is interested in the impact the new proposal could have on women who suffer domestic violence following a history of campaigning on legal aid since campaigning for the protection of the legal aid system in 1994. More recently, the WI launched a programme of work on tackling violence against women. Only those women suffering an extreme case of physical violence would qualify for legal aid under the new recommendations should they determine to bring a case against the perpetrator.

Those who suffer violent attacks and realise the need to extricate themselves and possibly their children from an abusive relationship have been able to apply for legal aid up until now to help. Under the new proposal, they would likely have to find themselves in intensive care before being able to qualify – such is the type of the injury required to qualify.

The Bill does acknowledge psychological abuse but victims of domestic violence often have far more complex needs, and advice on a range of issues such as housing, debt and much more will be excluded from the system.

The NFWI is not against reform of the legal aid system, but in its current format, the new Bill would adversely affect some of the most vulnerable in society. Alternative models to these proposals need to be pursued urgently.

There is still quite a way to go before the Act is on the Statute book, but how long does it take? The journey of a Bill put forward by an MP and all the stages it goes through to become an Act of Parliament could be just the thing for people to engage with during Parliament Week set for 31 October to 6 November this year.

The history of our Parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords is fascinating – not only to historians – and it is well worth taking a tour of the Palace of Westminster if you are in London. I am reliably informed that if you fancy listening in on the proceedings at the House of Commons then it is best to arrive in the late afternoon; settle back to hear and see history being made before your very eyes.

A new chapter in the history of the WI began this weekend with the WI tent at The Big Feastival on Clapham Common. This was an event that combined county shows with village fetes and was expertly coordinated by the Shoreditch Sisters WI. The WI Tent was fully decked out in retro style brought together cookery, baking, clothes, make up, hair styling, sewing, embroidery and so much more, whilst representing what the WI is really about: women. It was a real hive of activity and a superb recruiting event – go WI!