JusticeWatch: Equal to everything

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Equal to everything

Equal to Everything – Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court, published on Thursday, celebrates the journey of a young girl from Richmond in North Yorkshire, who travels to the highest court of the UK in Westminster,’ reported Owen Bowcott for the Guardian. The inspiration for for the book dated back to early last year when Dr Laura Janes, chair of the Legal Action Group , was reading an American children’s book about the acclaimed US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to her daughter. ‘Why don’t we have one?’ her daughter asked.

‘While children love fairness, hearing about rules and what happens when they are broken, the law has remained distant, even mysterious, to children – the preserve of mainly posh adult men in strange costumes,’ Janes said. ‘This book shows children that the law belongs to everybody and is within their reach, wherever they have started out.’

Everyone was talking about Lady Hale, the supreme court’s first female president. She was the subject of profiles on BBC Radio 4 (here), in the FT (here) and the New York Times (here).

‘She’s not someone naturally comfortable with the limelight, but then many of the senior judiciary aren’t; that’s one of the advantages of our system,’ the book’s author Afua Hirsch told the FT.

‘She sat alone as a woman in the House of Lords and Supreme Court for so long, that she just became very visible. But first and foremost, she is an excellent judge. But what’s notable is that she infuses her approach to judging with a clear element of humanity.’
Erika Rackley, a law professor at the University of Kent

The number game
MPs were wrong to say that the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) budget has fallen by 40% since 2010, new justice minister Chris Philp said last week – as reported by Legal Futures. ‘During a debate on the MoJ’s budget, MPs repeatedly referred to the statistic, as have lawyers and other campaigners in recent times,’ the article ran. ‘But giving the MoJ’s response to the debate, Mr Philp said it was based on figures for the 2015 spending review.’

‘Since then, there has been additional resource spending on MoJ matters from a variety of sources, and when that spending is added back in, the real-terms reduction is 21%,’ Philp said.

‘That is still a reduction, but of a great deal less than 40%. To put that in context, the British crime survey, which produces the most reliable crime statistics… finds a 33% reduction in crime over the same period; that is significant, and we should bear it in mind.’
Chris Philp

The debate was secured by Bob Neill, the Conservative chair of the justice select committee. He said the additional money was ‘worthwhile, but it needs to be part of a much more holistic plan’. He continued: ‘Too much reliance is being placed on the introduction of technology… and, frankly, governments of all shades do not have the best of track records on grand technological projects.’

Conservative Alex Chalk, a former criminal law barrister, paid tribute to ‘all those lawyers up and down the country who give of their time to speak truth to power, to redress grievances and to do so entirely free of charge. They really do heroic work.’ ‘It is unfashionable in this place to pay tribute to lawyers, but those who work pro bono are some of the best in our society.’

‘The total budget for legal aid is at or around £1.7bn, and I want to conclude by putting that figure into some context. To the Syrian crisis alone the UK will be giving—in a gesture that is no doubt entirely appropriate and that entirely speaks of our humane and responsible nature as a nation—something like £2.7bn.’
Alex Chalk

The ‘legal arm’ of Extinction Rebellion descended on the Royal Courts of Justice, according to Legal Cheek. Lawyers for Extinction Rebellion, a group for lawyers, legal professionals and law students interested in climate change activism, gathered outside the capital’s historic court, calling for the profession to “step up and take a positive role in tackling the biggest challenge facing our planet.”’

‘The group, holding a giant pink banner demanding ‘Justice for All’, distributed copies of their lawyers’ declaration complete with the eye-catching pink ribbon which is often seen wrapped around barristers’ briefs,’ it reported. You can read it (here) and it argued that the legal system was a ‘key contributor’ to the crisis.

Staff at trade union firm Thompsons Solicitors were planning to walk out this month in a dispute about pay, reported the Law Society Gazette. The GMB union confirmed that its members at the firm intend to take industrial action nationwide next week October after their demands for a 3.5% increase were not met. The Gazette reported: ‘The firm, which is a backer of the Labour Party and counts shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon MP among its alumni, says it cannot afford to match members’ requests in what is an uncertain time for firms that rely on income from personal injury work.’

Centre for Women’s justice
Harriet Wistrich spoke about setting up the Centre for Women’s Justice. ‘More and more people came to me and I couldn’t possibly represent everyone,’ she told Catherine Baksi in an interview for Legal Action. ‘So it kind of grew out of a sense that there really was a need for it.’

Would she keep juries for rape trials? Baksi asked. ‘My jury’s out on that one. I’m not sure – possibly not,’ Wistrich replied. ‘You could look at other options, possibly something akin to a discrimination panel, with a judge plus two specialist panel members who look at the facts and context and decide a case…. If you look at the way juries just do not convict young men, they just bring their own prejudices and views in too much,’ she says.

Tens of thousands of suspects were being released without bail conditions for unlimited periods, according to new research by the Law Society of England and Wales (here). The use of release under investigation (RUI) had increased dramatically since changes were placed on the use of bail in 2017.

Suspects, victims and witnesses were now left waiting for months or even years for justice. Fopr example, in Thames Valley, the number released on bail between 2016 and 2017 was 13,768. But in 2017-2018 this fell to 379, as the number released under investigation rose to 11053.

With no fixed time limit, cases can drag on for unlimited lengths of time. There’s no requirement to update the suspect if or when the case will progress.

Unlike bail, neither are conditions applied – such as requiring the suspect to live at a particular address, avoid certain areas/people or report to a police station. Figures for last year show that many are releasing a majority of suspects under investigation. ‘Thousands of suspects are being released under police investigation,’ said Law Society of England and Wales president, Simon Davis. ‘With no fixed time limit, cases can take months or even years to go to court. Suspects are left with uncertainty; victims of crime often live in fear of being confronted by the accused.’

The average length of investigation was much longer than police bail. In Surrey, there was an average of 228 days. ‘Decades of cuts have left the system at breaking point. Officers are struggling to investigate cases expeditiously because of staff reductions,’ said Davis.





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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