JusticeWatch: Lawyers who take the cases no one else will

The lawyer who takes the cases no one wants
Aida Edemariam, in the Guardian’s long read section, shadowed Tom Giles, an immigration solicitor and partner at Oxford legal aid firm Turpin Miller, on one of his regular trips to Campsfield House immigration detention centre.

‘Giles’s job, as a legal aid immigration solicitor, is to work out if a person has a legal right to stay in the UK, and if so, to try his hardest to make that possible – in a legal environment that is becoming more hostile by the day,’ wrote Edemariam. ‘As each prisoner explains his circumstances, Giles listens, asks questions. Often he has to pick up one of the handsets, gesturing to the man before him to do the same, and they speak through an interpreter. Giles says he will do what he can, he will do his best. Increasingly, he has to say that he is sorry, there is nothing he can do.’

The journalist asked Giles ‘how he coped with the human misery he encounters daily’.

‘I think, over the years I have managed by not taking it on. Not engaging with the underlying – facts, if you like. The things that have happened to somebody, or may happen to somebody. I’ve tried to concentrate instead on what I’m doing – what my role is. I’d much rather my client said, “Tom has explained to me he’s going to do this, that it has this chance of success,” than, “He’s a good guy and he’s always got time to chat.” You know?”
Tom Giles

Giles was asked why he became a legal aid lawyer. His parents split up when he was small and he, and his brother, were raised by his mother and her new partner in a politically active household. ‘It’s a cliche, isn’t it – growing up in a lesbian household in the 80s, in Stoke Newington – what are you going to do? Join Ukip and end up an estate agent?’

Friends likes these…
Also in the Guardian, Owen Bowcott wrote about McKenzie Friends – and the attempts by lawyers and judges to halt their growth post-LASPO. ‘As the cost of representation spirals and legal aid disappears, the role of these professional courtroom advisers who are not fully legally qualified has expanded to fill a cavernous gap in the market,’ he wrote.

‘Independent alternative legal advisers, pressure groups and charities fulfil the need those on low and middle incomes have for quality legal advice,’ said Nicola Matheson-Durrant of the Family Law Clinic in Windsor. She has a law degree and 25 years’ experience as a McKenzie Friend.

The judiciary is consulting on proposed reform of court rules governing McKenzie Friends which ‘sets legal professionals at odds with advisers like Matheson-Durrant’. The Judicial Executive Board’s provisional view is that courts should ‘adopt Scotland’s restrictive approach and ban payments’.

The article closed with a cmoment from one of Matheson-Durrant’s clients. ‘If I’d had a solicitor, the lawyers would still be arguing points of law. It would be a tragedy if that option was taken away. Not everyone can afford lawyers.’

Winding down – but not giving up
Catherine Baksi assessed three years of the Low Commission after news that the group was winding up after its funding ran out.

‘Looking at how many of the commission’s recommendations have been implemented to date, it may at first blush appear to have achieved little. There has been no more funding, there is no minister for legal advice and one of the first things the government did, when elected, was to cut funding for public legal education. But that would be a simplistic approach that ignores the true impact of the commission, and in particular the value of the work done by its chair, doggedly spreading the word from the coalface to the corridors of power.’
Catherine Baksi

Lord Willy Bach said that its work had been ‘exemplary’. ‘It has worked with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be… There is not much evidence of change in legal aid. But if there’s to be any change of heart, it will be the work of the Low Commission that achieves it.’

Computer says no…
Reforms to move paper-based criminal courts into the digital age had been ‘beset by failings with lost computer discs, systems that “do not talk to each other” and “numerous mistakes”’, according to a report in the Times’ daily legal newsletter The Brief (here).

Anyone there?
Michael Gove’s MoJ seems to have gone into hibernation, wrote John Hyde in the Law Society’s Gazette. ‘Of course, politics is on hold until the EU referendum and the inevitable fallout, whatever the result. Gove, as a figurehead of the ‘out’ campaign, is naturally a little distracted,’ he wrote. ‘… But the problem is we have several justice issues outstanding, directly affecting the livelihoods of thousands of people – and those people need some certainty.’

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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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