Millions to be silenced say leading agencies

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Press Release 15th April 2011

Leading European human rights organizations gathering today in Vienna, say governments across Europe are rolling back access to justice and the rule of law for the most vulnerable at the time of greatest need, silencing millions across Europe.

“42 million Europeans already live in extreme poverty”, said Marie-Cecile Renoux from international movement ATD Fourth World, “we’re seeing the impact of the recession in an alarming increase in exclusion and homelessness across Europe. These people feel they don’t have a voice.”

“Unfair dismissal cases are peaking across Europe as our members tackle the double hit of economic crisis and cuts to social benefits ”, said John Monks from the European Trade Union Confederation, “undermining access to justice is a third pivotal hit which will be devastating.”

“More than 500,000 vulnerable people will be silenced every year if government legal aid reforms go ahead in the UK”, said Jane Backhurst from Law Centres Federation, “thousands are campaigning under the Justice for All banner to stop this, the government needs to listen to them.”

“Our 700 member agencies are sounding the alarm about the rising tide of discrimination across Europe ”, said Michael Privot of the European Network against Racism,” access to justice concerns all of society, but those living in poverty and ethnic minority people and migrants always seem to end up at the bottom of the ladder.”

“While people across the Middle East are standing up for their economic and social rights, getting European governments to ensure that these rights are a reality through the courts remains an uphill battle”, said Antoine Madelin of the International Federation of Human Rights.

Charities, trade unions, voluntary and other community associations across Europe are stepping up joint action and calling others to join them, in solidarity with millions being silenced, who have been unfairly treated and excluded from justice, so that everyone can have access to justice in Europe, no matter who they are, where they live or how much money they have.

For further information: Tel: +44 (0) 7726433125, Jane Backhurst, Campaigns, Communications and Policy Director, Law Centres Federation.

1) Members of the EU Fundamental Rights Platform promote and protect fundamental rights, including children’s rights had their annual meeting today. It is civil society’s interface with the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency.
The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency’s 2011 report“Access to Justice in Europe: an Overview of Challenges and Opportunities”highlights the non-availability of legal aid, high legal costs and lengthy court proceedings as barriers to access to justice

2) In December 2010, 42 million people in the 27 EU Member States were reported as having been severely materially deprived. 116 million people, or almost a quarter of the EU’s population, have been affected by social exclusion, (“Income and living conditions in Europe”, Eurostat, December 2010 ). Launching the report at the end of the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, the statistical office of the European Union used data from the latest EU-SILC survey (2008), the EU reference source for comparative statistics on income distribution, poverty and living. .

3) Justice for All is the campaign to ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they earn. The UK Ministry of Justice’s impact assessment admits that over half a million of the most vulnerable people, including children and women, will be disproportionately affected by the government’s proposed legal aid reforms. Recent data puts this figure at over three quarters of a million. Thousands are mounting local action across the UK in the run up to a national Day of Action on 3rd June.

Law Centres are the UK’s oldest, free, expert community legal services providers. They provide free legal advice and representation to over 120,000 desperate people every year.

The European Trade Union Confederation was founded in 1973, it now represents 83 trade union organizations in 36 European countries, plus 12 industry-based federations.

European Network Against Racism is the voice of anti-racism in Europe:

ATD Fourth World is an international movement which fights with the poorest against extreme poverty.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is an international NGO defending all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights,

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