JusticeWatch: New line up at the MoJ

New line up at the MoJ
The prime minister ‘appears to have taken advantage of a comparative lull in politics to shuffle roles at the Ministry of Justice’, reported the Law Society’s Gazette.

Robert Buckland QC MP has been appointed as a minister of state with responsibility for prisons, replacing Rory Stewart MP. Buckland is replaced as solicitor general by Lucy Frazer QC MP, formerly under secretary of state for justice. A non-lawyer, Paul Maynard MP, joins as parliamentary under secretary of state with a portfolio including court services and reform, legal aid, criminal justice and family justice.

Congratulations

Tweet of the week

A tweet from Nathaniel Mathews, senior solicitor at Hackney Community Law Centre.

Home Office abandons asylum target
The Home Office is scrapping its target of processing most asylum claims within six months, the Guardian reported. ‘Human rights lawyers expressed alarm at the news, saying the number of vulnerable asylum seekers facing delays in having their claims processed could become even worse than its current level,’ it said.

‘We very regularly see asylum seekers who wait over six months for an initial decision,’ commented Hannah Baynes, of Duncan Lewis solicitors. ‘In many cases, we have no option but to resort to issuing judicial review proceedings to challenge the delay in a decision being made in a client’s asylum claim. I am concerned about the impact on clients’ health if the Home Office is planning to abandon its current target of six months for initial decisions in asylum claims. Such a practice creates uncertainty and means that those seeking asylum in the UK are unable to move on with their lives.’

Specialist housing court
The Residential Landlords Association called for the establishment of ‘a properly funded, dedicated housing court to improve and speed up justice for landlords and tenants’. Landlords are now waiting longer to repossess properties for legitimate reasons, according to official data published today. They quoted Ministry of Justice figures showing the average time for a private landlord to make a claim to the courts to repossess a property to it happening, was 17.3 weeks. The figures, which cover the first quarter of 2019, show the process is taking a week longer than it did in the final quarter of 2018.’

‘The courts are simply unable to cope when landlords seek to repossess property for legitimate reasons,’ said David Smith, policy director for the RLA. ‘Before seeking to scrap Section 21 repossessions Ministers urgently need to give confidence to landlords and tenants that the courts will first be substantially improved to speed up access to justice. That means establishing a full and proper housing court.’

Legal aid and the press
Grieving relatives of victims of the London Bridge terror attack had not received a penny in legal aid in their quest for justice, reported the Daily Mail. ‘Government agencies have used public funds to hire some of the best lawyers to represent their interests at a cost of almost £1million,’ it reported.

The families of the victims had not received any public money. ‘Instead, the families are being forced to go through a complicated and circuitous application process, filling out intrusive means-testing forms which require them to list their assets and those of their dead relatives,’ it reported.

The families were still waiting ‘possibly in vain’ for legal aid seven months after the inquest into the deaths. ‘Some believe they will never see a penny from the Government,’ it continued. ‘The Westminster families had their claim rejected because their terrorism experts were not on an approved legal-aid list… . By contrast, jihadi bride Shamima Begum was swiftly granted legal aid three weeks ago to fight the decision to remove her British citizenship.’

Taxpayers must pick up the bill estimated at more than £1 million for a failed fraud prosecution brought by a millionaire solicitor and property developer, reported The Times. Judge Phillip Matthews ordered that the public purse should cover the legal costs incurred by Ashok Patel ‘who lives in a Georgian square in Bayswater, central London and owns companies with assets estimated to be worth about £10 million’.

Patel brought a private prosecution against two of his former partners alleging 16 charges of fraud and false accounting. After a seven-month trial and 12-day summing up, a jury at Southwark crown court took two and a half hours to acquit both defendants of all charges last March. Judge Matthews, brought out of retirement to hear the application, allowed the costs to be awarded to Patel from central funds.

According to the article, MoJ figures show that in 2017-18, £3.7 million was paid from central funds to cover the costs of all private prosecutions. ‘The ruling comes as the justice system struggles after years of austerity,’ the paper noted. ‘Publicly-funded barristers instructed by the CPS are threatening to go on strike over low fees.’

Sharing Solutions Conference
Sign up for a conference aimed at people working in the access to justice sector. It takes place on Tuesday May 21, 2019 at Allen & Overy’s London office. It is a collaboration between LegalVoice, the Advice Service Alliance, the LIP Support Strategy and the Access to Justice Foundation.

Attending the conference is free though a refundable £20 deposit fee will be taken (repaid on attendance of the conference). Travel grants will be available for charitable organisations based further than 50 miles from London.

Please see below for a draft timetable. More here.

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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