JusticeWatch: a justice system ‘breaking at every point’

Sometimes, you just want to live in a world that is a bit kinder
Esme Madill, a former social worker and trainee solicitor at Islington Law Centre’s Migrant & Refugee Children’s Legal Unit (MiCLU), spoke to Fiona Bawdon for the Justice Gap’s All My Days column profiling the work done by Justice First Fellows funded by the Legal Education Foundation. In April she launched Breaking the Chains, which supports young Albanians seeking asylum in the UK. Home Office figures show that asylum claims by Albanian children are far more likely to be disbelieved and refused than those from other countries.

In the format, interviewees talk about their best and worst day.  This was how she described her worse day (read the article here).

We had a 17 year old with grounds to challenge a certified refusal by the Home Office… . I knew how much distress the boy was in so I called my daughter and her best friend who both volunteer for the Albanian charity, Shpresa, which works with Breaking the Chains. I asked them go to meet the boy. They went all the way to east London to pick him up, and then to Shpresa, who were providing the £528 fee from their hardship fund. They were both anxious to protect the boy, as he was already so distressed. ‘I kept saying to my daughter, just be really calm with him. You need to get to court by 4.15pm to lodge, or this all goes to pot.’ They had to get a postal order, because Shpresa can’t sign a cheque for more than £500. Garden Court had prepared the grounds, so they went there to pick up the papers. There was a delay because the papers needed to be found. They got to court at nearly four o’clock, but the court officer wouldn’t let them lodge because there was a document missing. I was having to track down the barrister, saying to Garden Court, ‘please, please find him.’ They lodged the papers just before quarter past four. There was a bit of me thinking, this isn’t justice: having to rely on two university students; the hardship fund. How is this humanly possible? It wasn’t fair on them. It wasn’t fair on the boy. It wasn’t fair on Shpresa, because who knows whether they will get the money back through a fee remission. Everything went to the wire. The barristers at Garden Court were amazing, but it wasn’t fair on them either. All of that, and all we’ve done is lodge an application to get permission to judicially review. Sometimes, you just want to live in a world that is a bit kinder. A bit of me thought, “Oh Esme, you think you can make a difference; the system is so much bigger than you.” It was a horrible day for him and everyone involved.’

Siobhan Taylor-Ward, a trainee solicitor (and Justice First Fellow) at Merseyside Law Centre, was lawyer of the week in the Law Society’s Gazette. She spoke powerfully about the pressures of combining a legal education with working full-time as a case officer on the Hillsborough inquests team. ‘I wanted to get the highest grades I could, as I was worried that as a woman over 30 with children, a mobility impairment and a scouse accent I might struggle to obtain a training contract,’ she said. ‘I remember regularly being up until 3am so that I could get my work and revision done, having had to complete my day job and parenting duties before I could start studying.’

‘I will never forget the time we spent with the families of the Hillsborough victims, the inspirational lawyers working on the case and the campaigners who never gave up.’
Siobhan Taylor-Ward

Well worth a read here.

Breaking at every point
The justice system was ‘not fit for purpose’, a judge has complained in a courtroom outburst at the lack of police, prosecutors and court staff.

Judge Anthony Lowe, sitting at Shrewsbury crown court, made the comments after he was forced to adjourn until February a trial due to start this month. According to The Times; the judge was ‘the latest legal figure to criticise failures in the justice system. He said that the lives of witnesses and defendants were being unfairly “put on hold” by delays to trials.’

He had been due to sit on the trial of a 20-year-old man for assault and possessing a weapon.

‘This is a justice system that is just breaking at every point – from the number of police, the number of CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], the number of court staff, the number of courts, the number of delays. Everywhere you look, our justice system is beginning to be not fit for purpose. Slow justice is bad justice.’
Judge Lowe

Meanwhile, The Times reported that a judge who gave a trainee lawyer a six month suspended jail sentence in relation to a mistake over paperwork had his decision overturned and criticised by the Court of Appeal. Three fellow judges said that Judge Kambiz Moradifar’s original ruling contained several errors and was not ‘fair or transparent’.

Judge Moradifar had sentenced Nasrullah Mursalin at a family court hearing in Reading in July after hearing that paperwork had been sent to another judge by mistake. Mursalin’s lawyer  told the appeal judges that the first judge had taken a ‘cavalier approach’ to rules governing contempt of court hearings.

Mursalin, who aims to qualify as a barrister, had been working at a firm of solicitors that was representing a man involved in both private family court proceedings and an immigration tribunal case.

Legal Access Challenge
The Legal Access Challenge run by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Nesta Challenges has doubled its prize fund to £500,000.

So far there have been 117 high quality entries from entrepreneurs, legal professionals, technologists, law schools and charities. ‘Following the high number of entries, the total prize fund of the Legal Access Challenge was increased by £250,000 with support from the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund,’ the SRA said. ‘The additional money will be allocated to the total prize fund – increasing the prize money available to £500,000 and doubling the number of finalists from four to eight, and overall winners from one to two.’

The challenge aims to make legal support ‘more accessible and affordable for individuals and small businesses through new technology’. More here.

Jess Phillips MP will be giving the keynote speech at this year’s LAPG conference in Birmingham on October 4. More details here.

YLAL is running an event on challenging the hostile environment. ‘Legal aid lawyers have been challenging the hostile environment since it was first introduced, from representing victims of the Windrush scandal to bringing strategic litigation aimed at finding parts of the scheme to be unlawful.’

The panel includes Derek Bernardi, Camden Community Law Centre; Shu Shin Luh, Garden Court Chambers; and Jacqueline McKenzie of McKenzie, Beute and Pope. It takes place on September 11, at 39 Essex Chambers. More here.


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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