JusticeWatch: Need legal aid? Google it

Need legal aid? Google it

‘Overt discrimination’ in the justice system
Prosecutions against some black and minority-ethnic suspects should be ‘deferred or dropped to help tackle the criminal justice system’s bias against them’, said the Labour MP David Lammy in his review of the criminal justice system – as was reported in the Guardian this morning.

‘My conclusion is that BAME individuals still face bias, including overt discrimination, in parts of the justice system,’ the MP said in his review commissioned by David Cameron when he was PM. Lammy highlighted the fact that there was ‘greater disproportionality’ in the number of black people in prisons in England and Wales than in the US. His report concluded there was overt racial prejudice in Britain’s criminal justice system, although it is declining.

The figures told a damning story, argued Stephen Whitehead from the Centre for Justice Innovation for the Justice Gap. Black people were one and a half times more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court than their white counterparts. People from an ethnic minority made up one seventh of the UK population, but a quarter of those in prison, and a third of those who die in custody. The over-representation of BAME people in the justice system cost the state an estimated £309m a year.

‘These statistics offer a grim indictment of how our justice system treats people of colour. It is not surprising, then, that [the new report] finds that the more than half (51%) of British-born BAME people believe that our criminal justice system unfairly discriminates against certain groups. But what is perhaps more surprising is that over a third (35%) of white British born people agree with them.’
Stephen Whitehead, Centre for Justice Innovation

Brook House exposé
Nine G4S employers were suspended this week following the broadcasting of a devastating BBC Panorama investigation into an immigration detention centre. The scandal-hit private security firm has been paid more than £100m by the government since 2009 to run Brook House, one of two of the 11 immigration removal centres that it has contracts for. The centre, which is close to Gatwick Airport, was only meant to hold detainees for 72 hours; however, as was revealed by Panorama, many inmates are being in the centre indefinitely in the most appalling conditions.

On the evidence of Panorama, Brook House us every bit as understaffed, overcrowded, drug-ridden and chaotic as the worst parts of the prison estate. It was inspected last year and deemed to be ‘reasonably good and making excellent progress’, however there were 53 cases of detainees needing treatment for self-harm in the last 12 months

Happy birthday
Legal aid pioneers Hodge Jones & Allen this week celebrated their 40th anniversary. On 5 September 1977, Henry Hodge, Peter Jones and Patrick Allen opened for business in Camden. The firm was founded with (in its words) ‘a strong ethos of helping individuals assert and defend their rights, to correct miscarriage of justice and to use the law constructively to improve people’s lives’.

Sir Henry, who died of leukemia in 2009, was the third non barrister to become a high court judge; Peter Jones became Pro Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University; and Patrick Allen is the firm’s senior partner (Vidisha Joshi recently became managing partner).

‘Today, the work we do is under constant scrutiny and attack from government, insurers and others,’ said Patrick Allen. ‘As I look back, I am immensely proud of what we have achieved and the impact we have made. I only wish that my dear friend Henry was here to see it.’

‘My hope is that austerity will end and there will be a progressive government that restores the legal aid scheme and champions rather than criticises human rights. Access to justice is a fundamental right – in my view it is the hallmark of a modern, progressive and civilised society.’
Patrick Allen

Patrick Allen acted in the inquests of those killed following the New Cross fire and in the litigation arising from the King’s Cross fire and the Marchioness disaster. The firm represented Winston Silcott in a successful appeal against his conviction for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock at Broadwater Farm. In a 2013 Supreme Court ruling, the firm’s joint head of civil liberties, Jocelyn Cockburn, secured the extension of the duties owed by the MoD to soldiers ‘on the battlefield’ under the Human Rights Act 1998. She also acted for the father of Stephen Lawrence.

Coming home (again)
Michael Mansfield QC has joined Nexus Chambers as head of chambers less than a year after creating Mansfield 1 Gray’s Inn Square. The chambers will apparently be known as ‘Nexus The Chambers of Michael Mansfield QC’. Last month, the Law Society’s Gazette reported that 20 barristers had departed 1GIS for Goldsmith Chambers. The human rights lawyer had previously set up Mansfield Chambers after the demise of Tooks chambers which he blamed on the 2013 legal aid cuts.

The QC said: ‘I am excited to be leading a chambers which, whilst forward looking and embracing the challenges that are facing the bar today, retains all that is good in a set of chambers; a passion for the law, an emphasis on democratic collective working, a real commitment to diversity, social justice, and human rights. It indeed feels like I am coming home.’

Friends like these
According to the Gazette, the judiciary is (possibly) about to publish an update on a consultation into banning paid McKenzie friends. ‘When it first published its consultation paper the judiciary said it would be in the “public interest” to prevent McKenzie friends charging for their services,’ it said. ‘A ban would also protect litigants “who would otherwise have little or no effective protection, or means of redress, from unregulated and uninsured individuals of varying and generally unverifiable competence.”’




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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