Low salaries are a ‘barrier to social mobility’
The Young Legal Aid Lawyers repeated calls for the reintroduction of a mandatory minimum salary after it was revealed that one in four trainee solicitors were paid below the recommended level. The Solicitors Regulation Authority scrapped the minimum salary for trainees in 2014 and now firms are required to pay only the national minimum wage.
According to a survey reported in the Law Society’s Gazette of approximately 500 trainees from across the UK, 25% of trainee solicitors are paid below the recommended minimum salary which actually represents an improvement on previous years, with 35% of trainees being paid below the recommended minimum in 2018.
The Gazette quoted legal recruiter Jon-Paul Hanrahan behind the study saying it was ‘good news… we have been tracking trainee pay awards for some time now and this year does feel different. Law firms have reacted positively to criticism, as our research also revealed that 45% of trainee solicitors received a pay rise this year compared to 35% in 2018 and for many it brought them above the threshold for the first time.’
According to a report by Oliver Subhedar in the Justice Gap, whilst YLAL welcomed the apparent progress – although it pointed out that it was unclear how many of those surveyed worked in legal aid firms – it remained concerned that so many were still being paid below the recommended minimum and argued that low salaries was one of the main hurdles for young lawyers in the legal aid sector and represented a barrier to social mobility.
Bar ‘not rolling over’
The new Bar Council chairman Richard Atkins QC told the Times’ Frances Gibb that he had ‘been out there taking part in strike action – and would do so again’. ‘I don’t want to see, if at all possible, barristers on picket lines,’ he said. ‘But sometimes it’s the only thing that works. I’ve taken action in the past.’
‘I think we have a better relationship now with the Ministry of Justice than I’ve seen for a long time,’ Atkins said. ‘I hope we can build on that and avoid the need for these sorts of action we’ve had to take in the past.’ But, he said, he would not ‘roll over and have my tum tickled’.
Atkins practices from St Philips Chambers in Birmingham and was also leader of the Midland circuit from 2014 to 2017. What advice would he give to students? ‘Think very carefully. It worries me the huge amounts of debt that students come out with at the moment, which is why I am very pleased to see the new Bar course that is being designed by the Inns of Court.” This, likely to start in 2020, will weed out failing students earlier and will be cheaper.’
LASPO review ‘nearly done’
The MoJ reckons its delayed LASPO review is ‘nearly done’, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. Justice minister Lucy Frazer was responding to a written question from Chris Ruane, Labour MP for Vale of Clwyd. Apparently, the MoJ had ‘engaged with more than 100’ organisations and individuals. ‘Having finalised this engagement at the end of November, the review is now near completion and will be published shortly,’ Frazer said.
According to the Gazette, there were 135,751 legal help matter starts and 51 civil representation granted certificates in 2008-09 which ‘plummeted’ to 443 legal help matter starts and nine civil representation granted certificates in 2017-18.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy at the Law Centres Network, told the Gazette that remaining legal aid for benefits appeals was ‘just half of one per cent… . It is barely there.’
‘Denying people help with appeals not only obstructs their right to challenge the state, but also hampers resolving other problems, such as housing or debt, which are still in scope. We have repeatedly made this point to MoJ and we expect to see it addressed in the LASPO review.’
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, Law Centres Network
The ‘highly contentious’ Leigh Day disciplinary case ended this week with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) paying the firm £1m in costs after its unsuccessful appeal, reported Neil Rose of the Legal Futures site..
The site reported that in the wake of the SRA publishing correspondence it had with the MoJ and MoD ‘in a bid to allay fears that the government had influenced the cases’, the MoD had now made available ‘a larger stash following a freedom of information request’. There was ‘nothing to suggest that there was any interference with the SRA’s independent work’ although there were ‘notable points’.
‘But they demonstrate a level of contact with the complainant (the MoD) going far beyond what most complainants receive, as well as a level of interest from the MoJ that is surely unlike that of any other case,’ Rose wrote. ‘In one heavily redacted email to a contact at the MoJ, then SRA policy director Crispin Passmore ends his message with the words “Please delete!” – but it is not clear to what he is referring.’
The High Court has granted Liberty permission to challenge the Legal Aid Agency’s refusal to fund legal actions against new style ASBOs – Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) – which make it ‘near-impossible’ for homeless people to enforce their basic human rights. Natalia Brownlie writing for the Justice Gap wrote that if successful, Liberty’s challenge woud ‘pave the way for anyone – regardless of whether or not they can afford a lawyer – to bring a case against potentially unlawful PSPOs’.
Lara Ten Caten, lawyer for Liberty, said, it was ‘simply bizarre that a government agency is refusing to assist people in challenging abuses of power which contravene Government guidance’.
BuzzFeed News’ Emily Dugan (who incurred the wrath of the MoJ press office) has won the print category for the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year for her coverage of the impact of the legal aid cuts and the rise of litigants in person. Alys Harte, Allan Urry, Gail Champion, and Clive Coleman won the Broadcast media category for a BBC Radio 4: File on 4 on the disclosure crisis. The BBC’s Sanchia Berg and Stephen Mulvey were also highly commended for their investigation ‘The “completely childish” man hanged for murder’.
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- JusticeWatch: ‘We need to love legal aid – as we do the NHS’ - 13th September 2019