JusticeWatch: 2019 Justice First Fellowship scheme opens

Courts idle as cases stack up
Nearly half of all crown courts across England and Wales were left empty on Monday this week, the Guardian’s Owen Bowcott reported, despite lawyers claiming that the backlog of criminal cases had never been so long.

‘Law experts suggested MoJ cuts to the number of sitting days and recorders – junior, part-time judges – were to blame for the large number of courtrooms being left unused,’ it continued. ‘… The survey, coordinated by Jonathan Dunne, a Nottingham-based criminal barrister at KCH Garden Square chambers, found that 127 courtrooms out of 260 were sitting idle. In Leicester, for example, four out of six courts were empty. In Snaresbrook, east London, 11 out of 20 were silent.’ The research covered 34 crown court centres – ‘around half of the criminal justice estate’.

‘There are thousands of cases backed up, relisted and delayed,’ Dunne told the paper. ‘Judges are perfectly open with us: they have had their sitting day allocations cut. In my area there are 500 trials they want to do… . It’s an easy soundbite to promise to hire extra police officers and create more prison places, but the bit in the middle [the courtroom trial] is crying out for more money.’

Meanwhile the Law Society’s Gazette noted that more than half of London’s courts had been inaccessible to those with disabilities in one month affecting 26 defendants, seven witnesses and seven members of the public. During an evidence session at the House of Lords constitution committee, crossbench peer Lord Pannick QC said many courts were in a ‘dilapidated’ condition. ‘They are an embarrassment and they detract from the ability of our court staff, including the judges, to provide a public service,’ he said.

Justice First Fellowship news
There are 18 trainee solicitor posts being offered through the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellowship scheme this year. ‘As we enter the sixth year of the scheme, we are delighted that this is our biggest solicitor recruitment round yet, commented TLEF’s chief exec Matthew Smerdon. ‘The calibre of candidates has been consistently high in previous years, and we are looking forward to an equally outstanding intake this year.’

The 2019 host organisations are Brighton Housing Trust; Castlemilk Law and Money Advice Centre; Clan Childlaw; Community Law Partnership; Greater Manchester Law Centre; Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre; Harrow Law Centre; Howard League for Penal Reform; Just for Kids Law; Law Centre (Northern Ireland); Legal Advice Centre (University House); Matthew Gold & Co; Norfolk Community Law Service; North East Law Centre; Shelter; Southwark Law Centre; Speakeasy Law Centre; Tower Hamlets Law Centre.

More here.

New breed claims farmer
Housing law expert Giles Peaker wrote about a new breed of claims farmer in housing disrepair cases on his Nearly Legal blog.

‘The reason for the rant is that these set ups are bad for tenants, bad for responsible and ethical claimant solicitors, and bad for social (and occasionally private) landlords in ways that should concern all of us, not just the landlords,’ he began. ‘Claims farmers (and sadly some solicitors firms, mostly “new entrants” to the area) appear to believe the disrepair is the new RTA or ‘trip and slip’, ready for unskilled bulk claims. It really, really isn’t.’

Unthinking racism
‘Conscious and unconscious racism and sexism is everywhere,’ said Marcia Willis Stewart QC in an interview for Counsel magazine. ’It is in the air we breathe. At the Mark Duggan inquest, the television news ran a strapline under my photograph identifying me as Mark’s mother. I was the lead solicitor for the family with a team of three barristers! Identifying me as a relative simply because I was black, and because I was there, was unthinking racism. It is of great concern to me that this kind of racism and sexism is still so pervasive, but I am afraid it is.’

The civil rights lawyer who represented 77 of the 96 families at the Hillsborough Inquest revealed that she did not enjoy giving press interviews ‘but one day a client said to me: “There are no black civil rights lawyers in the UK.’ I thought it was time to start being visible. BAME lawyers need to be seen and heard. They need to be visible. It’s not just defendants who can be black, their lawyers can be too.”’

‘What has saddened me more than anything else recently are the revelations about the ‘hostile environment’ created as a deliberate policy by the Home Office, and the shame it has brought on to our country. It has been terrible to see so many elderly people being victimised and hounded out by this policy. My parents came here from Jamaica in the 50s and I am hurt and angry to see how this policy has affected their generation.’
Marcia Willis Stewart QC

A long day
‘I’m a legal aid lawyer,’ began Laura Gibbons, a solicitor with the Greater Manchester immigration aid unit in a Guardian Law column called My Working Week. ‘My job is to help people challenge decisions made by local authorities and government departments: I mostly work with children in the UK who are on their own and seeking asylum, and who have had their ages disbelieved.

Gibbons described her Thursday as follows:

‘My desk is surrounded by piles of files. I have to step over them to get to my chair and then I’m barricaded in. I spend the day sorting out my backlog of legal aid billing. Our charity only gets paid by the Legal Aid Agency at the end of someone’s case. We get a fixed fee of £259 per file unless I spend three times the allowed hours, then I can bill at an hourly rate. Right now I’ve got 39 open files. I make a pot of coffee; it’s going to be a long day.’



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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