JusticeWatch: The need for active vigilance is more important than ever

The head of the court service Susan Acland-Hood blogged about the £5m to upgrade over 200 court buildings. ‘We have now completed these works and, while I know that carpets, paint and small fixes are modest improvements, I also know that they can make a difference – and that not having been able to do these things in the past has contributed to a dispiriting, uncared-for feeling in my courts,’ she wrote.

‘[It] can’t be right to decide that all buildings that currently exist should on principle be part of our estate forever; we have to make the buildings we have part of the thinking we do about how to make sure the money we spend is going on the things that will make the most difference.’
Susan Acland-Hood

Acland-Hood said that would sometimes mean ‘hard decisions’ and the court service is ‘currently carefully considering’ responses to its consultation on the future of the estate.

The need for active vigilance
Michael Mansfield QC reflected on his half century at the Bar in his foreword to my new book Guilty until proven innocent: the crisis in our justice system published last week by Biteback Publishing – and run on the Justice Gap.

‘Having just completed my 50th year of practice at the Bar, I reckon I am well placed to compare the state of the legal world as it is now, relative to my early years of legal practice, the barrister wrote. ‘It’s not that nothing has changed – it has got worse. The need for active vigilance is now more important than ever.’

 A little frustration
The lord chancellor ‘offered little comfort’ to lawyers hoping for concessions on legal aid spending, the Law Society’s Gazette reported. Appearing before the House of Lords constitution committee, David Gauke ‘gave nothing away when asked about improving access to justice and help offered to litigants in person’.

MPs asked him about the advocacy fee reforms. ‘It is worth remembering that when it comes to the Crown court [around] 99% of applicants for legal aid are successful, and that hasn’t changed over the course of the reforms,’ he said. ‘There is obviously action at the moment in the context of AGFS, which we are a little frustrated by, because the reform pre-dates my time in the position, [and] this was something that was revised with close consultation with the legal professions.’

Mulling it over
Solicitors ‘caught up in the bar’s protest against the government’s legal aid reforms should not be bullied or blamed’, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association said – as reported in the Law Society’s Gazette.

The CBA chair Angela Rafferty QC said the action ‘places heavy burdens on our solicitor colleagues, some of whom have been subjected to pressure and to very difficult situations. They are the ones who are dealing with the judiciary in cases where no counsel can be found’.

Rafferty said it would be unfortunate for solicitors to be treated with ‘anything but courtesy and understanding’ in the weeks ahead. ‘To blame or bully them would be both counterproductive and extremely unjust,’ she wrote in her weekly message.

The Gazette quoted a report in the South Wales Argus in which a judge criticised a firm for failing to send a qualified lawyer to represent a client who was due to be sentenced for assault. ‘The judge reportedly revoked the firm’s legal aid certificate in the case,’ the Gazette reported. ‘Rafferty said the association is seeking a transcript of the hearing and ‘working closely’ with solicitor-colleagues on ‘how to deal with this’.’

The Gazette had previously reported that solicitors were ‘mulling how to back the criminal bar’s protest action’.

Return of the ‘tank chasers’
A firm of ‘tank chasing’ lawyers has lodged 450 new claims of alleged wrongdoing by British troops in Iraq in a fresh attempt to make millions out of the taxpayers, so began the Sun on Leigh Day. ‘Here we go again — it’s ridiculous,’ said former Army chief Lord Dannatt. ‘I’d like to see the detail in the allegations and to know who’s making them. This kind of undermining — essentially for commercial gain — is really debilitating for our Armed Forces.’

British soldiers faced new ‘witch hunt’, reported the Daily Telegraph.

Last year three members of Leigh Day, including senior partner Martyn Day, were cleared of charges of misconduct by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The Times reported that the Solicitors Regulatory Authority is going to the High Court to challenge the earlier finding. The SRA is ‘likely to argue at the appeal hearing listed for July 16 that the tribunal did not follow proper processes and erred in law’.

In an analysis, Jonathan Ames and Frances Gibb wrote that Leigh Day ‘hardly broke stride after going through the longest and most expensive Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing ever held’. ‘The firm immediately picked up its caseload of human rights and consumer-oriented claims,’ they said. ‘Only last week its clients Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar obtained an apology from the attorney-general for the British government’s involvement in their rendition to Libya.’

‘These cases taken against the MoD were ‘stayed’ awaiting the judgment from the High Court last year,’ said a Leigh Day spokesman. ‘These are not new cases — the MoD has been aware of them for at least five years. The findings in the High Court case, that Iraqi civilians had their human rights breached whilst in detention, meant these 250 cases could be taken forward. We have asked the MoD for further information on around 200 claims to help determine their validity. We welcome the MoD statement that valid claims should be compensated.’


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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