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Film to portray Grayling’s ‘CRAP’ legal aid cuts on his birthday

The Legal Aid Team! are three superhero lawyers who aim to show the public the impact of the legal aid cuts in the build up to the general election, reports Catherine Baksi

25 March 2015

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An award-winning film-making duo aim to take the campaign over legal cuts to the wider public and make it an election issue, with a satirical animation starring a stellar line-up of British actors.

The seven-minute cartoon produced by Fat Rat Films begins with the Attlee government passing the Legal Aid and Assistance Act and shows how three superhero lawyers help vulnerable clients who would otherwise not be able to afford a lawyer.

The script, which has been seen by Solicitors Journal, goes on to portray Grayling's CRAP -Cuts Reforms Action Plan - to slash legal aid and the dystopian future of legal services provided by giant TESCO-style law firms unable to help those most in need.

Voiceovers are provided by Maxine Peake, star of the BBC's barrister drama Silk; Avengers and Ab Fab national treasure Joanna Lumley; Four Weddings star, Simon Callow; One Foot in the Grave's curmudgeon Richard Wilson; the Peep Show's Paterson Joseph; star of Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, Sally Hawkins; Hot Fuzz's Kevin Eldon; Priyanga Burford, who portrayed an ambitious Asian UKIP MP in Channel 4's UKIP: the first 100 days; Jemma Redgrave, a fourth generation actor from the Redgrave dynasty; and Gary Pillai, due to appear in Season 5 of Game of Thrones.

The film will be broadcast on the Guardian website on 1 April - the 53rd birthday of the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling.

Fat Rat Films is an award-winning production company specialising in short films on social justice, civil liberties and human rights. Their films have been broadcast on BBC Newsnight, Channel 4 and Al-Jazeera. They have also produced films for NGOs, including Oxfam.

The couple behind it, Fred Grace and Gemma Atkinson, state on their website that they only work on films and campaigns that they 'truly care about and believe in'.

Last year the pair produced an animation - Act of Terror - about the right to film and photograph the police, which went 'viral' and was seen by more than a quarter of a million people in a day.

Their website states that a short documentary - No Place Like Home - produced by the pair about detention without trial saw them put under investigation by the Attorney General for contempt of court and threatened with a two-year jail sentence.

They were inspired to make the Legal Aid Team! film following their own encounter with the justice system. Grace told SJ that Atkinson had been assaulted by the police during an illegal search and with the help of a legal aid lawyer successfully challenged the police's use of section 58a of the Terrorism Act.

As a result of the case, he said, the police changed their guidelines to officers. But, he added: 'It wouldn't have been possible without legal aid, so we understand from a personal point of view as well, why it is so crucial.

'We're big fans of legal aid as a concept. It's a beautiful thing having a society that looks after the less fortunate, and it's up to all of us to protect that idea from vicious ideologically driven cuts.'

They want to spread the word to the wider British public about the devastating impact of the legal aid cuts, introduced in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012, which removed public funding from huge areas of civil work.

Grace said: 'Most people in the UK understand the importance of a functioning national health service. They understand that at any point they could require its services. Can the same be said of legal aid?

'No it cannot. We do not have the same concept of "it could happen to me". The narrative that has been propagated by its opponents is that it is a tool for the radical left wing, a prop for terrorists and bogus asylum seekers, a way of making rich lawyers richer.'

Press articles about the cuts, he said, have failed to get the message across to the public. He hopes the use of 'satire and comedy' in the animation will make people listen.

'Before people will commit to understanding an issue they need to believe it is fundamentally important. Our film says the cuts to legal aid are unfair because they punish the vulnerable, a simple idea that a majority will get behind.

'Once you get them on board then the more difficult arguments can be made, but first you need the groundswell of public opinion.'

Grace added: 'But time is running out to get people on board and other avenues have failed; this is a new approach that we know from experience can work.'

In the run-up to the launch of the film, the team is looking for supporters to act as 'social media ambassadors' to spread the word. To get involved email production@fatratfilms.co.uk.

Catherine Baksi is a freelance legal journalist

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