JusticeWatch: going the extra mile

Going the extra mile
The Guardian reported on the disturbing case of Roger Khan, ‘a dyslexic defendant’ who represented himself in the crown court ‘after being handed 790 hours of CCTV footage to review in prison to support his alibi’. Khan is now being represented the Centre for Criminal Appeals.

‘Khan’s experience highlights the difficulties the legal system faces when dealing with defendants who do not have a lawyer to argue their case in a criminal court – a predicament that campaigners claim is becoming more common due to cuts in legal aid entitlement,’ reckoned Owen Bowcott. Although, Khan was unrepresented after he dismissed two sets of lawyers following disagreements over the conduct of the case.

Emily Bolton of the CCA, who has worked on death row cases in the US for years, said Khan had to carry his case papers ‘in garbage bags up and down to the cells’ during the trial. ‘As in all English cases, there was no transcript,’ she said. ‘Complete trial transcript has been available as a matter of right in the US since 1956. British lawyers have been parachuting into death row cases in Mississippi and bewailing the injustices they see there – but such injustices are only visible when you have an actual transcript of the trial to see what was really going on.’

“So how do we know similar casualties of justice are not taking place here in Britain? The CCA, which relies on grants and donations, wants to change this… by going the extra mile to bring a complete picture of a case to the court of appeal, not just the tip of any particular iceberg.’
Emily Bolton

A bad place
‘We’ve got to a pretty bad place where a government is even considering repealing the Human Rights Act,’ Martha Spurrier, the new director of civil rights organisation Liberty told the Guardian. ‘I don’t think the government would put in its manifesto that it would repeal the Equality Act, and I can’t see the difference between that and the Human Rights Act.;

As the Guardian noted, taking on cases that contest cuts to legal aid has been ‘a key part of Spurrier’s campaigning work’ including the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service challenge to cuts to legal aid for prisoners which removed funding for cases concerning, for example, mother-and-baby-unit and segregation cases.

‘Some of the most vulnerable people will be those who are trying to keep their baby with them in prison and will have been separated for days, months, weeks. They need representation, because there is nowhere else in prison they can go – they can’t go online, they can’t go to a local advice centre, they can’t ring a helpline.’
Martha Spurrier

Tweet of the week

Shining a light
Miranda Grell wrote about the ‘decimation of legal aid’ and ‘why we should all care’ for Media Diversified.

‘Readers will be under no illusions as to why it is important to fight to protect access to legal aid,’ Grell, an LV contributor and development officer at Hackney Community Law Centre began. ‘I don’t need to tell you that there are some legal issues that disproportionately affect Black and Minority Ethnic people and can only be resolved with the assistance of legal aid.’

‘Take the historic issue of the deaths of Black people at the hands of the British state. One example is Sean Rigg who died in police custody in 1998. Were you aware that when Sean died his family did not have the automatic right to receive legal aid for legal representation at his inquest? Only years of fighting by his indefatigable sister Marcia finally corrected the situation. The same thing happened to Cherry Groce’s family after she was unlawfully killed by the police in her home. Shockingly, in 2016, the mother of 5 year old Alexia Walenkaki, who died playing in an East London park, is going through the same struggle. For the grieving families of loved ones who died at the hands of the state, legal aid is literally about life and death.’
Miranda Grell

Grell was writing to highlight a Justice Gap/Justice Alliance campaign to fund the one-off special edition of Proof Magazine. ‘It will shine a light on the terrible injustices being faced by ordinary people being denied legal aid,’ she wrote. ‘It will also set out to the public in stark terms what that really means for families like the Riggs, the Groces and so many others.’

Earlier in the week the campaign hit its initial target of £5,000 (in under two weeks) – any further funds raised go to increasing the magazine’s print run to make sure people can see it (up to a £7,500 maximum).

You can donate HERE.

The truth about Zane
The family of Zane Gbangbola, who died in his sleep during the 2014 floods (see last week’s JusticeWatch), have been denied legal aid for a third time – just days before an inquest into their son’s death is due to begin, according to Get Surrey.

The couple needs £70,000 to pay for lawyers to represent them. They are more than half way: gofundme.com. The inquest starts Monday.

‘Our deepest sympathies are with Zane Gbangbola’s family,’ said a spokesman for the Legal Aid Agency. ‘We recognise that this is a tragic case and we have examined their new legal aid application in great detail. Our decision remains that the circumstances of this case do not meet the requirements for receiving funding, which have been set out in law.’

Value for money?
Lawyers ‘escalated their campaign’ against paid McKenzie friends (as the Law Society’s gazette put it) calling for ‘a blanket ban on remuneration and warning against any moves that could give the public the impression they are regulated’.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers claimed that ‘those who can afford legal advice will always get better value for money by instructing a solicitor or other legal professional’. ‘It is disappointing to see the LSB and SRA promoting the false assumption that fee-charging McKenzie friends are cheaper than lawyers,’ he said.

“I’m an activist through writing, you’re activists through law,’ the journalist Owen Jones told Hackney Community Law Centre. Jones was appointed an HCLC patron. You can read the Law Centre’s annual report here.

‘In the last five years have seen many people struggle to cope with the impact of ongoing austerity and welfare reform. In March 2015, for example, the Hackney Gazette highlighted that children were among the hardest hit by the cuts to legal aid – particularly those who are homeless, have experienced sexual exploitation or suffer from mental health issues. In the last twelve months, in particular, HCLC has seen increasing levels of need with rising demand for our services.’
Ian Rathbone, Chair of HCLC

It also reported that former HCLC intern (another LV contributor and Justice Gap commissioning editor) Mary-Rachel McCabe had begun her ‘pupillage’ with Doughty Street Chambers. See below (MR on left).


Apparent disconnect
‘Let’s be frank about what keeps so many stuck in poverty. Corruption. Rotten government. No access to justice,’ said David Cameron in a speech to the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September last year. Apparently, goal 16 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals includes a commitment to the provision of ‘access to justice for all’. James Sandbach wrote about it for Legal Action here. ‘This apparent disconnect between the UK’s domestic and international approach towards access to justice becomes all the more stark when you look at how the government has been an active advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals,’ he wrote.

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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