JusticeWatch: Ministry of Mayhem

Ministry of Mayhem
Ministers were pushing for troubled Ministry of Justice to be broken up because it was ‘not fit for purpose’, reckoned the Sun. ‘A series of major blunders and rows with the country’s top lawyers have sparked “concerns at the very top that a major overhaul is needed”,’ a cabinet source told them.

The Telegraph reported that the justice secretary was in the firing line. ‘Theresa May is being urged by Cabinet Ministers to strip Liz Truss of her role as Lord Chancellor and break up the MoJ amid concerns the department is “not fit for purpose”,’ it said.

‘Senior government sources’ have told the paper that ‘a series of embarrassing mistakes’ have prompted the concerns. Mistakes included Truss’s ‘apparent refusal’ to defend judges after they came under attack over the Brexit court case and ‘her handling of a number of incidents including prison staffing numbers and confusion over whether rape victims would be allowed to give evidence via video-link’.

Born awkward
There was a great interview with Frances Crook in the New Statesman which revealed that the head of the Howard League for Penal Reform suffered from a spectacular case of ‘nominative determinism’. ‘Her name literally means “free the criminals”,’ wrote Helen Lewis.

‘I ask Crook: how does she do it? Most of us would be too afraid of causing a bother, or being disliked, to do her job. “I always was a little awkward sod!” she smiles. “Just born awkward.”’

Rape clause
Liberty called the Government’s oppressive ‘rape clause’ inhuman and degrading. The Government has revealed regulations requiring women to prove they have been raped in order to claim child tax credits for more than two children.

‘The so-called “rape exemption” is among regulations that will come into force tomorrow,’ the group said. ‘If the exemption does not apply, a family will only be able to claim tax credit for up to two children.’

‘Forcing women to disclose that they have been raped will be highly distressing and amounts to victimising these women all over again,’ said Liberty. ‘Most do not want to talk about the rape for fear of being disbelieved or because of cultural stigma. ‘

Running out of goodwill
Garden Court North’s barristers attacked the plans for late court sittings (as reported on LV here). ‘No doubt there are some judges who support this scheme as well as some from the other agencies named but we seriously doubt this ill-thought out scheme has the support of most judges, probation officers and certainly not the court staff,’ they blogged.

‘The MoJ and HMCTS need to understand that the remaining goodwill of the Bar on which the entire court service depends is running at dangerously low levels.  Morale has never been lower at the publicly funded Bar after years of cuts to fees together with rising expenditure, for example on electronic equipment as the courts have gone digital.’
Garden Court North

Welcome to the modern world
‘The sudden trilling of a mobile phone amid the solemn atmosphere of a court hearing often leads to stern glances from the bench and cringing embarrassment from the offender,’ wrote Owen Bowcott in the Guardian. But apparently Mr Justice Holman responded thus: ‘Please answer it. Don’t be embarrassed, just answer. I never mind when mobiles go off … We live in the modern world, and we like to keep our mobiles on. It may be somebody important.’

Bowcott reckoned his words might ‘be indicative of a more accommodating

LISA: robot lawyer
A Leeds solicitor has invented a ‘robot lawyer’ for those who can’t afford legal fees, reckoned the Yorkshire Post.

Chrissie Lightfoot is the CEO of LISA – it stands for Legal Intelligence Support Assistant – and is ‘an artificial intelligence-based tool which allows users to create legally binding non-disclosure agreements in fewer than seven minutes for free’.

‘Our goal is to make everyday, basic legal services accessible and affordable to the mass of students, consumers and business people who are unhappy with, or overly reliant on, human lawyers and law firms,’ said Lightfoot. ‘Many human lawyers are adversarial by nature, even when dealing with non-contentious matters. LISA’s aim is to negate the double time and double costs involved in relation to this human lawyer behaviour by being completely impartial when assisting the parties on each side.’

MoJ stats
Steve Hynes of the Legal Action Group blogged about the latest MoJ stats. ‘Since the implementation of the LASPO cuts the number of civil legal aid cases has reduced by two-thirds,’ he wrote. The figures showed ‘a continuing decline in the take-up of civil legal aid’. ‘LAG believes that the government is failing to ensure that legal services are available for people still eligible to receive help,’ he said.

Hynes reckoned that the increase in exceptional case funding applications was ‘a cause for some modest celebration’.

Finally, law students at the University of Sussex have opened a ‘letters clinic’ with the Prisoners’ Advice Service to help prisoners with questions regarding their rights. Apparently, the initiative is to help address Chris Grayling’s legal aid cuts. ‘PAS receives 4,000 letters a year and, as a small charity, does not have the resources to respond to every letter without the assistance of outreach clinics,’ the Law Society’s Gazette reported.



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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