JusticeWatch: Making a mockery of justice

Making a mockery of justice
Tuckers, the defence firm representing a convicted killer who has absconded, denied being ‘professional embarrassed’ following an outcry over the granting of legal aid for his appeal – as reported in the Justice Gap here. Jack Shepherd was found guilty in his absence in July last year of the manslaughter of Charlotte Brown who drowned after he drunkenly flipped his boat while showing off late at night on the Thames.

The woman’s father accused Shepherd of ‘making a mockery of justice’ by appealing his conviction while receiving ‘tens of thousands of pounds of legal aid money to launch an appeal’. The justice secretary David Gauke last week promised to review the decision to allow legal aid for Shepherd to appeal his six-year jail sentence despite having been on the run since March 2018. The defence firm representing the man said that they received ‘less than £30,000’ for representing their client at trial and had ‘absolutely no idea’ where the figures of £93,000 or £100,000 came from as reported in the Daily Mail and that ‘95% of our legal aid work’ was done by the time their client absconded.

In a statement on the firm’s website, Tuckers insisted that it was ‘not professionally embarrassed because the client has not attended his hearing’. It pointed out that they were ‘criminal defence solicitors and have an important role in the criminal justice system to represent those accused of criminal offences. We represent. We do not judge.’

The anonymous blogger the Secret Barrister read the media furore as a deliberate ploy of ‘antagonising of the public against legal aid’ as a precursor to the LASPO report review.

MoJ’s casual sexism
In May last year BuzzFeed’s Emily Dugan reported that the MoJ had buried a 36-page report containing ‘explosive testimony’ from judges and prosecutors about the impact on the criminal justice system of the rising number of litigants in person – as covered here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down well at the MoJ. We now know how the MoJ responded internally thanks to Dugan’s continued digging. The journalist obtain correspondence following a Subject Access Request.

The attitude towards a journalist going about her job is shocking. At one point, MoJ staff say: ‘Yeah she’s a real bitch’, ‘And a but crazy reallt [sic]’

Following the publication of the original article, the press office’s response was to advise staff to ‘avoid talking to Emily Dugan on the phone in any more detail than is absolutely necessary’ and to refuse to meet.

Dugan drew attention to what she called the ‘casual sexism’ of the exchanges. In one conversation, one press officer boasted: ‘I’m starting to warm up Emily Dugan… I was giving her my best lines, “This doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship”…’

‘No journalist should be subject to such abuse, particularly in pursuit of a legitimate and important story,’ said Penelope Gibbs, of charity Transform Justice who was the first to push for the research to be made public. ‘It would be great if the MoJ would focus on the real problems faced by unrepresented defendants rather than on keeping information secret.’

The MoJ apologised and said that they were ‘extremely disappointed to see that some of the language used in a small number of internal conversations was unprofessional’. ‘We take this seriously —appropriate internal action is being taken and a personal apology was extended to Ms Dugan.’

Pride before a fall…
The revelations appeared shortly after the MoJ’s press office tweeted: ‘What’s been your proudest achievement this year?’ In case you were wondering, the achievements included £70 million investment into our prisons and recruiting more than 70,000 prison officers.

To which, the prison officers’ union, the POA’s general secretary Steve Gillan pointed out that ‘in reality you have been forced into all these investments by the POA because your track record had led to a Prison and Probation Service in crisis. You have nothing to be proud of.’

The Secret Barrister, tweeted: ‘Probably publishing a book exposing how your “achievements” have brought our justice system to its knees. Thanks for asking x.’

‘A 73-year-old woman like me in Vogue? Hilarious’
The president of the Supreme Court Hale was courting ‘constitutional controversy’ in an attack on ‘austerity’, reckoned the Law Society’s Gazette. In a speech before the Isle of Man Law Society released this week, Lady Hale said that the European Court of Human Rights had made it clear that the convention does not require participating states to provide housing and welfare benefits. However ‘what we do provide must be provided without unjustified discrimination’. That had been ‘hampered by government policies that impact more harshly on women, children and disabled people than they do on other groups’, Hale said.

The judge went on to say that, while parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights is currently inquiring into the experience of the Human Rights Act, ‘I think that we can tell them that it has been something of a success for families and for their children.’

The judge had ‘many firsts in her long and prestigious legal career’ but her ‘most unexpected may well be a double-page feature in the fashion journal Vogue,’ reckoned the Independent. ‘The Yorkshire woman, who started life as Brenda Marjorie Hale, readily admitted to the magazine: “A 73-year-old woman like me in Vogue? Hilarious.”’

Going from a state school to Cambridge University, she came up against the ‘public schoolboy element’ – the Indy reported. ‘But Lady Hale pointed out there were some advantages to being outnumbered by men during her student days – primarily for her social life. “I think those of us who wanted a lot of fun had a lot of fun!”, she told Vogue.’

You can check out Vogue here.

Meanwhile, judges regarded themselves as being treated little better than ‘junior civil servants’ who have to put up with stressful workloads and abysmal working conditions, reported Frances Gibb in The Times. Research submitted to the Senior Salaries Review Body on judges’ pay last year but recently released provided ‘a stark illustration of how the work of a judge has lost its appeal’. ‘They work in courtrooms that are “not fit for purpose”, have to eat lunch out of Tupperware boxes because canteens have closed, struggle with failing IT and even do their own photocopying, the research finds,’ Gibb wrote.
‘No one is saying “I want to be treated like God” but the function has been devalued all the time in terms of working conditions,” one judge is quoted saying.

Martyn Day appears before defence select committee
Leigh Day has been paid £11million in legal costs by the Ministry of Defence, reported the Daily Telegraph. The firm’s senior partner Martyn Day apearwed before the defence select committee in what it called ‘an uncomfortable two-hour question-and-answer session’.

The Telegraph reported: ‘Asked by Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP and former soldier, if he believed that the generation of British soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan had “such a problem with values and standards” that the idea of them executing Iraqi soldiers was a “genuine possibility”, Mr Day replied: “Yes.” Mr Mercer later described Mr Day as “absolutely deluded”.’


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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