LASPO cuts ‘exacerbate extreme poverty’
The ‘dramatic rolling back’ of the legal aid scheme has been identified as one of the causes of ‘the systematic immiseration of millions’ across the UK, according to the UN’s expert on poverty and human rights
Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, called the imposition of austerity ‘an ideological project’ and Brexit ‘a tragic distraction’ in a damning report. Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, announced that she would be bringing a formal complaint about (what she called) the ‘barely believable’ report.
Alston identified ‘the decimation’ of legal aid as a contributing factor to the ‘immiseration of millions’. He pointed out that LASPO led to the number of civil legal aid cases declined by ‘a staggering’ 82 % between 2010 and 2018. ‘As a result, many poor people are unable to effectively claim and enforce their rights, have lost access to critical support, and some have even reportedly lost custody of their children,’ Alston said. ‘Lack of access to legal aid also exacerbates extreme poverty, since justiciable problems that could have been resolved with legal representation go unaddressed.’
’‘UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available.’
Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
Read more on the Justice Gap here.
A lawyer for Shamima Begum’s family has accused Sajid Javid of ‘human fly-tipping’ and cancelling the citizenship of the teenager simply to further his ambitions of becoming prime minister. Mohammed Akunjee in a letter to the Times, Akunjee argued that it was ‘the responsibility of a British secretary of state to deal with British problems’.
‘Your act represents the most profoundly egregious, capricious and politically driven abuse of power. It was a unilateral, unprincipled response to the publishing of [a media interview with Begum in the camp] deployed as an artifice or device to further your own personal political objective of being prime minister. Ms Begum was a pawn to your vanity. Her baby died.’
Quality concerns about legal advice for immigration detainees
There were growing concerns about the poor quality of legal advice available to immigration detainees following changes to the provision of free advice in detention centres, reported the Justice Gap.
In September last year, the MoJ made changes to the contracts with solicitors’ firms on the Detention Duty Advice scheme allowing for an increase in the number of providers. Under the old contracts one firm would have provided around 20-25 weeks of legal advice surgeries, now each firm run surgeries over one or two weeks a year in any given detention centre.
According to the legal charity BID (Bail for Immigration Detainees), the vast majority of providers have never run duty surgeries in the past and the ‘vast majority…lack experience of detention work’. BID’s latest report on immigration detainees’ access to legal advice and representation revealed that whilst the level of legal representation has gone up – almost two-thirds of detainees now have access to a solicitor and of that number 69% are legally-aided – there were growing concerns about quality.
The group interviewed 77 detainees across a number of immigration removal centres and revealed that in the majority of appointments (61%), only basic information was taken and no advice given. Not a single detainee had been informed of the possibility of applying to the Legal Aid Agency for ‘exceptional case funding’ which allows for legal aid where someone might otherwise not be eligible for public funding. Just over four out of 10 individuals (43%) who currently had a solicitor said that their solicitor had applied for bail.
Bar walk out
Criminal barristers are due to vote on a one day walkout over prosecution fees, as reported in the Law Society’s Gazette. The Criminal Bar Association is proposing a ’whole profession walkout’ on July 1st and that prosecution and defence barristers refuse returns. ‘It is astonishing and shameful how wilfully and casually those with the power to choose are risking complete professional collapse,’ commented Chris Henley, chair of the CBA.
Legal aid heavyweights merge
The Gazette also reported the merger of two London ‘legal aid heavy weights’: Waterloo-based Steel & Shamash and Edwards Duthie which has offices in east London and Essex. The combined firm (Edwards Duthie Shamash) will have 140 staff.
2019 LALYs shortlist revealed
A criminal defence solicitor based at the law centre closest to Grenfell Tower, and a former refugee who brought a string of successful human rights challenges on behalf of migrants last year, have been selected as finalists for this year’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards.
The judges selected four finalists in the Public Law category, in recognition of the exceptional calibre of entrants:
- Polly Brendon, of Public Law Project, who has been instrumental in a series of challenges to the LASPO cuts, including relating to exceptional case funding; the payment regime for pre-permission judicial review work; changes to the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme; to restrictions on legal aid for unaccompanied minors. She is praised for combining ‘excellent legal analysis with a fearsome eye for detail and order’.
- Sam Genen, of SCOMO LLP, is recognised for his exceptional work ensuring proper protections from illegal strip-searching for women and transgender prisoners. The success of his case earlier this year, LW v Sodexo and SSHD, will have far reaching effects, establishing that government cannot contract out its human rights obligations and must ensure safeguards are in place. ‘What I really love about Sam is his strong moral compass and willingness to be brave,’ says one supporter.
- Raja Rajeswaran Uruthiravinayagan, a public law solicitor and supervisor at Duncan Lewis, whose nomination was supported by a raft of QCs, judges and NGOs. Raja left Sri Lanka due to the war at the age of 13, leaving his family behind. His notable cases last year include a challenge to the Home Office immigration removal window policy, which is described as ‘one of the most important cases in a generation in the sphere of immigration and asylum affecting all irregular migrants’.
- Martin Williams is a welfare rights adviser at Child Poverty Action Group with over 20 years experience. His detailed knowledge of the history and development of types of benefits is invaluable to CPAG’s legal team. He has conduct of his own cases, including the hugely complex Incapacity Benefit-Employment Support Allowance backdating case, heard by the Upper Tribunal, which transformed the lives of many people.
CPAG has had a double success this year. As well as seeing its welfare rights adviser Martin Williams shortlisted for in the Public Law award category, the charity was selected as a finalist in the Legal Aid Firm/Not for Profit category. Other finalists in this category are Cartwright King and Southwark Law Centre.
‘It is always humbling and uplifting in equal measure reading about the life-changing work of legal aid lawyers. LAPG is proud to organise these important awards on behalf of the entire grassroots legal aid profession, which give us all a much needed boost. Working in legal aid can be relentlessly difficult but each year the LALYs remind us that legal aid lawyers are not only skilled professionals but are also incredibly driven, committed and compassionate.’
Chris Minnoch, LAPG CEO
There will also be special awards for Anselm Eldergill, the district judge who (in the words of the LALYs) ‘literally, wrote the book on mental health review tribunals law’ and two former YLAL chairs, immigration and family barrister Rachel Francis and public law solicitor Oliver Carter.
The winners will be announced by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC at a ceremony in central London on 10 July. The LALYs are organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, and are into their 17th year.
1. Children’s Rights – Sponsored by Anthony Gold
- Edward Taylor Fiona Couzens Nusrat Uddin
- Osbornes Law Simpson Millar Wilson Solicitors LLP
2. Criminal Defence – Sponsored by DG Legal
- Lydia Dagostino Kellys Solicitors
- Kerry Spence Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors
- Alexandra-Maria Eugenicos North Kensington Law Centre
3. Practice Manager – Sponsored by Accesspoint
- Joanne Dalton Julie Obiamiwe Sally Thompson
- MSB Solicitors
- Foster & Foster
- Luqmani Thompson & Partners
4. Family including Mediation – Sponsored by Resolution
- Paul Szabo Keeley Lengthorn Philip Wilkins
- Cartwright King
- McMillan Williams Solicitors Hudgell & Partners Solicitors
5. Legal Aid Barrister – Sponsored by The Bar Council
- Joanne Cecil Martin Hodgson Samuel Jacobs
- Garden Court Chambers One Pump Court Chambers Doughty Street Chambers
6. Legal Aid Firm/Not for Profit Agency – Sponsored by The Law Society
- Cartwright King
- Child Poverty Action Group Southwark Law Centre
7. Legal Aid Newcomer – Sponsored by Friends of LALY19
- Maria Petrova-Collins Una Morris
- Duncan Lewis Solicitors Garden Court Chambers Public Interest Law Centre
8. Public Law – Sponsored by Irwin Mitchell
- Polly Brendon Martin Williams Sam Genen
- Raja Rajeswaran Uruthiravinayagan
- Public Law Project
- Child Poverty Action Group Scomo LLP
Duncan Lewis Solicitors
9. Social and Welfare – Sponsored by Tikit
- Monica Kreel William Ford Lisa Haythorne
- TV Edwards LLP Osbornes Law Derbyshire Law Centre
10. Access to Justice through IT – Sponsored by The Legal Education Foundation
- ATLEU ATHUB
GT Stewart Formshare
11. The LALY judges will also be making an award for Outstanding Achievement – sponsored by Matrix Chambers. There is no shortlist for this award.
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