JusticeWatch: The legal aid community pays its respects to Sir Henry

Sir Henry: He cared and it showed
The legal aid community paid respects to a tireless access to justice campaigner, Sir Henry Brooke who died after a heart operation this week.

Lawyers took to Twitter to pay their respects.

Law Centres paid tribute to Sir Henry. ‘Henry was a fearless campaigner for access to justice throughout his long and illustrious career,’ North Kensington Law Centre said. ‘He was a consistent source of support, encouragement and wisdom for the Law Centre, particularly following the Grenfell Tower disaster last summer. Henry was a strong advocate for the law centres movement, and its role in creating a fairer society; he recognised that the rule of law itself is undermined if the poorest and most vulnerable people do not have access to it. The legal world is a lesser place for his passing.’

Ian Rathbone, chair of Hackney Community Law Centre, recalled he ‘could be serious – after all he had been a High Court Judge – but he also had a great sense of humour and wit about the ironies and absurdities of the system and life in general’. He recalled the following anecdote at recent law centre AGM:

‘I read the other day of a whistle-blowing local government housing officer who spoke of what he called an institutional contempt of claimants who sought help in homelessness cases in some of the councils he worked for. He said that this was notable in councils where there weren’t law centres or local welfare rights advisers to hold them to account for decisions which were unfair and plain wrong.  He added this – if you will pardon my French: “When I went to work for one council in Greater London, it was getting away with murder.  Then some solicitor joined the local Citizens’ Advice… she was s**t hot. The council didn’t know what had hit them. The CAB were getting people coming in with bad homelessness decisions the council had made. The solicitor was going back to the council and saying ‘What the hell are you doing? I’m going to judicial review you and take you to court if you don’t do something.’ The council were just running around like their a*ses were on fire, going ‘we don’t know what to do now.’ “The council saw these challenges to its poor housing decisions like a total affront: ‘This is disgusting. Why should people be allowed to be covered by the law? Who does she think she is, upholding the law?’ ‘

‘Some people in the establishment have no doubt said the same of Sir Henry – who does he think he is with his ideas of justice for the poor and access for all, and fair payment for lawyers working in the legal aid system,’ Rathbone continued. ‘But I don’t think he cared very much because he seemed to know what was right, and pursued it over a vast number of issues. The Law Centres movement has much to thank him for.’

Andrew Walker QC, chair of the bar, recalled the spontaneous standing ovation he received following his speech at the 2017 conference as ‘testament to his unique contribution, and a fitting recognition of both his commitment and his achievements’. ‘The way in which he managed to follow a long and distinguished career at the Bar and on the bench with a tireless and selfless devotion to those causes throughout his retirement was truly inspirational,’ Walker said. ‘He cared, and it showed.’

The Times’ Brief newsletter recalled Sir Henry’s valedictory address on his retirement from the Court Appeal bench in 2006. Speaking at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the lord chief justice Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers recalled that Sir Henry’s clerk had once noted that he ‘wears his robes like a catwalk model: off the shoulder’.

Vicious circle
Almost one-third of those with legal problems in the UK reported developing a stress-related or physical illness as a result of their experience, according to a new international study comparing people’s perceptions of justice around the world – as reported in the Guardian.

In the UK, 31% of respondents with a legal problem over the past two years said they had become ill – the same figure as Canada and 1% higher than in the United States. Of the 45 countries surveyed, Ethiopia came out highest in this category at 41%. It was an article I write with Will Bordell.

The research was produced by the World Justice Project. It revealed that, of those who had experienced any kind of legal problem, one in 10 respondents from the UK suffered a relationship breakdown and nearly one in five (18%) lost their job, faced financial strain or were forced to relocate.

Pamela Fitzpatrick, director of Harrow Law Centre, noted that the link between legal issues and mental illness was particularly troubling. “I would say about 70% of our clients, if not more, have a mental illness ranging from depression and social anxiety through to paranoid schizophrenia; it’s a vicious circle,” she said.

‘In every case where I’ve represented someone at a tribunal, the person has burst into tears when they know they’ve won. It’s been such a stressful thing – and that’s with a representative.’
Pamela Fitzpatrick

The article featured an interview with Sir Henry. ‘All the research is saying that if you tackle the causes of the potential stress and mental health issues at the start, you save a great deal in healthcare costs and the breakdown of relationships, loss of employment and housing later down the track,’ he said.

Event: The Fight for Social Justice: Young Lawyers Making Change
The Young Legal Aid Lawyers are hosting a conference on March 3, 2018 ‘to inform and inspire the social welfare lawyers of the future, build a network of like-minded junior lawyers, and bring together those committed to working in the areas of law traditionally funded by legal aid’. It is organised by Justice First Fellows and YLAL. Tickets are priced at £10. Book now.


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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