JusticeWatch: The Brenda agenda

The Brenda agenda
’What stopped Lady Hale becoming president of the UK Supreme Court in 2012?’ asked Joshua Rozenberg in the Law Society’s Gazette. ‘If she had succeeded Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Hale would have had a good seven years in the top job instead of little more than two.’ 

In the legal journalist’s new book on judicial activism – Enemies of the People? – he exposes the ‘anyone but Brenda’ campaign that ‘alighted instead on Lord Neuberger – who was then less than three years into his post as master of the rolls’.

Rozenberg cited Lord Hope’s diaries which, the journalist claims, provides ‘an insider’s account’ of the years 2009-2013 when Hope was deputy president. Lord Neuberger ‘was by far the best candidate’ in 2012, Hope recorded. ‘He will be a real pleasure to work with. Brenda, on the other hand, seemed to be on the defensive for much of the time. The picture that she presents of the relationship between men and women is not one which most women share. This is a pity, as she is such an excellent lawyer and does so much that is good for the court… Her time will no doubt come, but not now.’

When Hope was nearing retirement age in 2013, Mance applied to succeed him as deputy president. On the selection panel were Neuberger, Hope and three non-lawyers. ‘The in-house vote was strongly in favour of Jonathan,’ wrote Hope, ‘probably because Brenda is not easy to deal with, frightens some people and is so relentless in her pursuit of her agenda about women.’

But Hale ‘outshone him by a very distinct margin’. ‘I am world famous,’ Hope records her as saying. Mance’s consolation prize was to succeed Hale as deputy president in 2017, though he had only eight months left to serve. In his 1996-2009 diaries, Hope described her as a ‘formidable, vigorous person with a strong agenda of her own’. Hale responded last summer in a lecture at Girton College.

‘What is this “Brenda agenda” and why should voicing it arouse such feelings? It is, quite simply, the belief that women are equal to men and should enjoy the same rights and freedoms that they do; but that women’s lives are necessarily sometimes different from men’s and the experience of leading those lives is just as valid and important in shaping the law as is the experience of men’s lives.’
Lady Hale on the ‘Brenda agenda’

Innocence Tax
‘Tens of thousands of people’ had been left out of pocket after being acquitted of serious crimes over the past four years because the government ended the reimbursement of legal fees. ‘More than 120,000 acquitted defendants have had to pay significant legal bills after Whitehall cuts to legal aid’, according to a Times report.

It continued: ‘Since 2014, when a means test for criminal legal aid was introduced, more than 126,000 defendants have paid for lawyers in crown court trials and been acquitted. They accounted for a third of the total number of crown court trials over that period. A cap limiting how much of their costs acquitted defendants can claim back means those found not guilty can pay thousands of pounds in legal fees. Justice campaigners have branded the charge “the innocence tax” and claim that it can “wipe out life savings”.’ 

‘Defendants paying privately often pay as much as three times as much as they would be reimbursed at legal rates,’ Ian Kelcey, a senior criminal defence solicitor, told the paper.

BID research
New research published today based on the testimony of 90 individuals held in detention centres in the UK gives rise to serious concerns about the quality of legal advice available, write Rudy Shulkind of the legal charity Bail for Immigration Detainees.

‘The results lay bare the sorry state of legal advice in immigration detention. The stakes could not be higher – without access to quality immigration legal advice people are at the mercy of the Home Office and face long-term detention and removal from the UK. For many of our clients this means permanent separation from family in the UK, or being taken to a country that they have not seen in many years and may fear returning to.’
Rudy Shulkind, BID

Some 59% of people currently have an immigration solicitor, 68% of whom are represented on a legal aid basis. These figures were lower than those prior to the 2013 legal aid cuts, which removed non-asylum immigration work from the scope of legal aid.

Interviewees were particularly critical of the legal advice surgeries in detention centres. Changes to the contractual arrangements governing the provision of legal advice in immigration detention brought about in September 2018 drastically increased the number of firms delivering advice surgeries (from a total of nine firms to 77) and this has caused a significant reduction in quality.

Of 53 people who gave a description of their surgery appointment with the duty solicitor in detention, 24 explicitly described the advice as bad, or not useful, or stated that no advice was given. There were only eight people who described the advice they received in a positive way.

Legal advice surgery appointments are meant to last half an hour. That is already a very small amount of time in which to read through somebody’s papers, assess the merits of their 

Flogging off our courts
The Times Brief reported that the government had been flogging court buildings like a market trader trying to off load tomatoes at half-past on a Saturday. The Times’ own research revealed that the number of courts in England and Wales had been slashed by a third in the past nine years in a radical government sell-off that critics claim is severely limiting access to justice.

Fire at Chancery Lane
The Law Society’s Chancery Lane HQ has reopened for business after a major fire at the weekend. ‘The fire, which broke out in 114 Chancery Lane on Saturday night, was contained without injury by the efforts of 150 firefighters,’ reported the Gazette. ‘Attendees at a Junior Lawyers Division event were safely evacuated by staff.’

No-one’s interested
Meanwhile also in the Gazette, Monidipa Fouzder wrote that the MoJ, ‘reportedly under orders to find a 5% budget cut’, could come under pressure to channel more cash towards the prison estate after it was criticised by Whitehall’s spending watchdog for failing to provide safe and decent prisons. ‘Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to get tough on serious crime, recruiting 20,000 more police officers. However, the National Audit Office said HM Prison and Probation Service faces prison population and capacity pressures because of increased demand for prison places.’

Lord Falconer, former lord chancellor, expressed his concern about future spending on areas such as legal aid.

‘No one is interested in the justice sector. Everyone is interested in the health sector, the education sector, fighting terrorism. But no one is interested in the justice sector… We have got to make a common cause with the lord chancellor. We as politicians and practitioners have got to make common cause with him so he can fight in government for an increase in real terms for expenditure in these matters. If not, you will find things get considerably made worse.’
Lord Falconer

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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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