JusticeWatch: ‘You must give victims of injustice a level playing field’

Where the sun don’t shine 
‘You must give victims of injustice a level playing field – or else it’s a disgrace,’ Margaret Aspinall, the chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group told MPs yesterday – as reported by www.thejusticegap.com (here). Aspinall, who lost her son James in the 1989 disaster, appeared in the House of Commons to demand changes to the criminal justice system in the wake of the Hillsborough verdicts.

When James died she had four other young children. ‘We didn’t have money but my house was rich with love,’ she said.

Trevor Hicks, whose two daughters were amongst the 96 dead, asked 42 families for £3,000 to club together to pay for a barrister. Aspinall read out the letter offering her £1,226.35 compensation.

‘I would have loved to have told them to shove that cheque where the sun don’t shine. But we had to raise £150,000 to get a barrister. So I took it. Then I got to the inquests and saw the police had 10 barristers, paid by the state, against our one.’
Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group

Aspinall called for a series of reforms including parity of funding for legal representation between bereaved families and public bodies such as the police.

Reverse ferret
Private Eye reported on the  ‘shameless defence’ of South Yorkshire Police by their lawyers.

After the Hillsborough Independent Panel report published its report in 2012, the Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton made a fulsome apology stating his force ‘failed the victims and families’. (‘The police lost control.  In the immediate aftermath senior officers sought to change the record of events,’ he said. ‘Disgraceful lies were told which blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster. Statements were altered which sought to minimise police blame.’)

This didn’t stop South Yorkshire Police lawyers – in particular,Duckenfield’s lawyer John Beggs QC – reheating the discredited narrative that drunk and ticketless fans brought disaster on themselves.

‘How much less pain would have been inflicted on the survivors of the disaster and the families of the dead and how much shorter and less costly to tax payers the inquest would’ve been, if Crompton had not subsequently performed a reverse ferret – a move which left Beggs & co free to shift the blame.’
Private Eye

You can read Hillsborough lawyer Mark George QC on Crompton on the Justice Gap (Sorry isn’t enough).

The Eye called Beggs QC  the ‘attack dog’ for the police, repeatedly questioning survivors about alcohol at the inquests. Steve Kelly, who lost his brother, told the magazine: ‘I was there every day, and Beggs used alcohol to deflect the blame, my brother had no alcohol in him. The survivors haven’t spoken for 27 years, they were traumatised, and he went for them.’

The magazine had some fun with ‘a grovelling interview’ (their words) with the silk for the April issue of Modern Law Review. Beggs, the joint head of Serjeants’ Inn chambers, is on the front cover (headline: ‘We won’t be bound by hostile media commentary’). ‘We are known to be robust in defending our police clients’ interests,’ the silk said. The interview doesn’t mention Hillsborough and asks the kind of questions (‘Does the chambers do any international work?’, ‘Can you give me any specific examples of innovation?’) that could have been answered by checking out his chambers’ web site.

This week The Lawyer magazine published the shortlist for its awards – and guess who’s up for barrister of the year? John Beggs QC. Apparently, the silk recently made it in their ‘Hot 100’.

The Liverpool Echo was mystified as to why Beggs was being celebrated by his peers.

‘Meet the Hillsborough lawyers who DO deserve an award,’ was their headline. The article quoted Christina Lambert, QC, was the lead counsel to the inquests (from an interview with The Times) talking about ‘her most memorable moment as a lawyer’. ‘During my questioning of the match commander, David Duckenfield, he admitted that he lied about fans forcing the exit gate to gain entry to the stadium: the court — packed with the relatives of those who died — fell completely silent,’ she replied.

Election news
Congrats to former legal aid lawyer Sadiq Khan – and new London Mayor. ‘The job I really want is Chris Grayling’s, not Boris Johnson’s,’ the then shadow justice secretary told us in 2014. We weren’t entirely convinced by that line then.  ‘The idea that there are people at the junior bar or working in legal aid firms earning six figure salaries is a joke and we’ve got to get that across,’ Khan told Mary-Rachel McCabe. He was worried that the low-pay in legal aid law, coupled with the huge debts accrued in qualifying, would deter those from low-income backgrounds.

 ‘We’ve made huge progress but all that progress we’ve made is being undone. We’re returning to the situation where – unless mummy and daddy are rich enough; unless you’ve been to a public school – you can’t think about a career in the legal aid profession. And that’s heart-breaking for me.’
Sadiq Khan

That said, Khan wouldn’t be drawn on a Labour government reversing the LASPO cuts. ‘It’s not as simple as that. That’s the sort of thing that lawyers who are angry – but naive – say,’ he said.

Congrats also to legal aid champion and Labour peer Lord Willy Bach who – in the words of the Leicester Mercury – ‘stunned the Conservatives by winning the Leicestershire police and crime commissioner election by nearly 20,000 votes’.

‘The Conservatives had held the post going into Thursday’s poll and, with incumbent Sir Clive Loader stepping down, had hoped for success,’ it reported. ‘However, a storming performance in Leicester, where the Labour peer secured 30,000 more votes than his Tory rival, tipped the balance.’

‘I am delighted. This week began with my beloved football team winning the Premier League, and ended with me being elected to this post,’ Bach said.

Starting from scratch
Sir Henry Brooke blogged about Harrow Law Centre and their evidence to the Bach Commission. He is a patron of the Law Centre.

In their evidence of the commission, they say that they ‘regularly see vulnerable people who have been left without any food or heating’.

‘In the last few weeks we have four families sleeping in cars due to homelessness and several sleeping in the bus station or park. We have had several cases of people saying they have had enough and are going to kill themselves. We see children with special needs pushed out of the schools considered to be the best in the borough and we see some left without education at all for many months.’

‘LASPO has been such a disaster it would perhaps be better to scrap it and start from scratch,’ wrote the Legal Action Group’s Steve Hynes in the New Law Journal. ‘As it was clear from its inception, the changes to civil legal aid it eventually established have excluded the poorest and most vulnerable from the civil justice system. Even if the government don’t accept the need to repeal, they should use this review to look again at civil legal aid from first principles.’

Hynes argued that the need for ‘a degree of independent governance’ for legal aid went ‘to the heart of its role in being part of the bedrock of the rule of law’. ‘Without access to legal advice and representation in our adversarial justice system the principle of equality before the law is undermined,’ he said. ‘Restoring some independent governance to the legal aid system would create an important constitutional check on the effectiveness of access to justice for the public, independent of provider and party political interests, as well as independence in decision making on awarding legal aid in individual cases.’

‘While LAG does not advocate simply turning the clock back to a pre-LASPO Act age, we argue there is a compelling case to look again at what civil legal aid covers. A separate civil legal aid fund, perhaps working with alternative dispute resolution, legal education and information technology services, should be considered. Sticking to LASPO as it stands will only lead to more misery for those excluded from the civil justice system.’
Steve Hynes

The MoJ has ruled out reviewing the 8% rate of interest it charges when legal aid has to be repaid – even though the Bank of England continues to hold UK interest rates at 0.5%, reported the Law Society’s Gazette.

London Legal Walk
Good luck for Monday to London Legal Walk-ers!

It’s not too late to support them (here).

Last call for for places on a free leadership development programme aimed at senior leaders in the social welfare law sector.

The course is run by the Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness. More here.

Applications must be in by close of Monday, May 16.

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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