JusticeWatch: Bishop backs Hillsborough Law proposals

The legacy of the 96
Responding to the review by the former bishop of Liverpool into the Hillsborough disaster, Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James was killed in the disaster, said that implementing the Hillsborough Law reforms would mean that the Grenfell families and others would never have to ‘go through what we did’. ‘For us, this is the legacy of the 96 people who died, that changes will be made for the future good of the country,’ she said.

As reported by the Justice Gap, the Right Rev James Jones called for legal aid to be available for bereaved families at inquests as well as legally enforceable duty of candour to be imposed on police. He gave his backing to the Hillsborough Law proposals.

The Bishop called his report The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power which he explained was a phrase that came to him as a result of spending two decades listening to families.

‘The Hillsborough families know that there are others who have found that when in all innocence and with a good conscience they have asked questions of those in authority on behalf of those they love, the institution has closed ranks, refused to disclose information, used public money to defend its interests and acted in a way that was both intimidating and oppressive,’ Jones said. ‘And so the Hillsborough families’ struggle to gain justice for the 96 has a vicarious quality to it so that whatever they can achieve in calling to account those in authority is of value to the whole nation.’

Responding to Dame Elish Angiolini QC’s independent review of deaths in custody also published this week, the government said the lord chancellor will review existing guidance ‘so that it is clear that the starting presumption is that legal aid should be awarded for representation of the bereaved at an inquest’ subject to the director of legal aid casework’s ‘overarching discretion’ (as reported in the Law Society’s Gazette here).

The government added: ‘It will be also be made clear that in exercising the discretion to disregard the means test, consideration should be given to the distress and anxiety caused to families of the bereaved in having to fill out complex forms to establish financial means following the death of a loved one. This work will be completed by the end of the year.’

Meanwhile, the Shoreham Air show disaster victims’ families have been denied legal aid.

Local MP Tim Laughton said during Prime Minister’s Questions, that the families were likely to be the ‘only persons at the inquest not legally represented’, and called for them to have ‘proper access to justice’.

‘On August 22 2015 in my constituency, 11 men tragically lost their lives in the Shoreham Airshow disaster,’ he said. ‘Over 26 months later no decision has been taken on criminal charges and the coroner’s inquest has been delayed again until November of next year, and the families of the victims have just had their application for exceptional case funding rejected by the Legal Aid Agency, and they will likely be the only persons at the inquest not legally represented.’

The prime minister said that there was ‘considerable work’ going on to learn the lessons from the disaster. ‘We are also obviously committed to ensuring that people, where there is a public disaster, that people do have, are able to have proper representation, and this is an issue that I will ask the Lord Chancellor to look at in relation to the question that he has raised.’

Pale, male and stale
White male solicitors were ‘six times more likely to reach the top of their law firms as their female ethnic minority counterparts’, the Times’ Brief newsletter reported.

A study released by the Solicitors Regulation Authority reported that only a third of partners at solicitors’ firms in England and Wales were female. ‘White males are over three times more likely to become a partner in large corporate firms than white females and six times more likely than ethnic minority women.’ According to SRA ‘the best opportunities for females of all ethnicities to become a partner were in a small firm’. That was also the case for ethnic minority men.

Tweet of the week

Youth justice
The top family judge called for a major shake-up of courts that hear cases involving children by amalgamating them into a single court that considers both criminal and welfare issues, reported Children & Young People Now.

In a speech to the Howard League for Penal Reform, Sir James Munby said that there was an urgent need to move towards ‘problem-solving’ courts because current systems were not effective at ensuring the welfare of young people. He said youth courts should be integrated into an expanded family court system involving mental health and immigration and asylum tribunal cases concerning children.

‘These systems – and I use the plural deliberately – are, I have to suggest, far too complex, far too little co-ordinated, and serving far too many different and often conflicting objectives, to be effective in furthering the welfare of children and their families,’ he said.

Enemies of the people
Dilapidated courts, a shortage of support staff and heavy admin were ‘depressing the judiciary’s morale’, the Guardian reported. The Lords constitution select committee also suggested that the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges should be lifted to ease the problems of recruitment and retention.

In a rebuke to former lord chancellor Liz Truss for failing to defend the judiciary from the Daily Mail’s attacks over the article 50 Brexit litigation (and its ‘Enemies of the People headlines), the committee said that it was ‘imperative that the independence of the judiciary is protected and that it is well-understood by the public’. ‘This does not impinge on the right of the free press to challenge or to criticise court judgments,’ it said.

‘However, there is a difference between criticism and abuse; between challenging the content of a judgment and attacking the character and integrity of the judge handing down that judgment. In such cases, the lord chancellor’s constitutional duty is clear—as stated in the oath of office, the lord chancellor must defend the independence of the judiciary.’

 

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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