JusticeWatch: No QC for Birmingham pub bomb families

No QC for Birmingham pub bomb families
The Birmingham pub bombing families were dealt a fresh blow’ in their fight for legal aid, the Birmingham Mail reported. Their Belfast-based firm KRW LAW has been told that, although they have been acting free of charge since 2014, ‘current legislation means they will not receive any backdated payment beyond February this year’.

At a ‘crunch meeting’ the Legal Aid Authority told the firm that there was ‘no prospect’ that they would provide retrospective payment for work it has done between December 2014 and February 2017.

The ‘immediate effect’ was that the 20 families would not be represented by a QC at the pre-inquest hearing review. According to the Mail: ‘That is a vital hearing, when the scope of the inquest is set to be determined – something that was likely to have involved substantive legal argument.’

Apparently, five QCs are representing the West Midlands Police, the Devon and Cornwall Police, the Government and the Police Federation. ‘This is yet another crushing blow for us,’ said Julie Hambleton who lost her sister Maxine in bombings (picture). ‘We can never thank KRW LAW enough for all they continue to do for us. But this is a real dilemma again. We want the scope of the inquest to be as wide-ranging and transparent as possible. Nothing less will do.’

Chancery Lane abuses dominant position
The Law Society ‘abused its dominant position’ by requiring over 3,000 law firms to buy its own training in order to maintain a conveyancing accreditation, Neil Rose writing for Legal Futures reported. The Competition Appeal Tribunal granted an injunction to force Chancery Lane to re-open the market to competition.

According to Rose, the case could have cost the society ‘at least £1m’. The Conveyancing Quality Scheme was launched in 2010 ‘but the tribunal said the Law Society did not come to hold a dominant position until the end of April 2015, when Nationwide Building Society made membership a condition of membership of its legal panel, meaning more than a third of the lending market was tied to CQS’.

Apparently the tribunal was critical of the society’s claim that CQS was loss-making. We are bound to record that it is disappointing, to say the least, that the Law Society produced a schedule of figures in purported compliance with the tribunal’s orders which was wholly unsatisfactory.’

‘It was obvious what the Law Society was doing was not just illegal, but also desperately unfair to us and to law firms,’ commented Bernard George, a solicitor and Socrates director, and formerly director of the College of Law’s London operations.

Not so flexible
The Bar Council has ‘encouraged judges, solicitors and barristers’ to resist the government’s plans for longer court sittings hours by ‘suggesting a new standard for operating hours’, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. Apparently, the barristers’ group reckons that ‘no court or tribunal should sit before 10am or beyond 4.30pm’.

According to a new protocol, the Bar Council say ‘extended opening hours could have “widespread implications” on barristers’ professional practices, as well as on their personal lives’.

The Gazette also reported on a new practice note allowing legal aid lawyers to ‘refuse work if it threatens the viability of their firm’ – see Catherine Baksi’s report here.

Hope & despair
Sir Henry Brooke wrote about an inspiring visit to Hackney Community Law Centre. The retired Court of Appeal judge quoted housing adviser Nathaniel Mathew’s powerful blog about a day in his working life. The article appeared on Mathew’s Frontline Hackney blog and LegalVoice (A blizzard of homelessness). ‘I told him that my wife and I had felt a sense of despair when we read his recent blog about a typical day in his working life,’ Sir Henry wrote. Nathaniel had sent him a message, saying ‘Yes, but there is hope. That must conquer all.”

Sir Henry responded thus:

What a remarkable man! I too, live in hope, that at long long last we may see some sensible change of policy towards some of the most vulnerable people in our society, even if there is no whisper of a realisation of this need in the Conservative Party manifesto.

The Bar Council’s Mark Hatcher ran through the election manifestos’ approach to justice issues. He was also unimpressed about the Tories’ offering (‘remarkably thin’). ‘The manifesto seeks to reassure the electorate that Conservatives really do “cherish our strong and independent judiciary” who are respected as the finest in the world,’ he says. ‘… Without condescending to specifics, the party promises to continue court modernisation, improve the court estate and facilities and “make it easier for people to resolve disputes and secure justice”… . In a tantalisingly vague reference, family courts will be expected to recognise the value of mothers and fathers and ensure parents face up to their responsibilities.’ ‘Outside the Westminster bubble, it is unclear whether the electorate actually bother to read and absorb the manifestos,’ Hatcher added.

The Legal Action Group’s Steve Hynes predicted a groaning intray for the new Lord Chancellor in the New Law Journal (here). ‘Hopefully, the new Lord Chancellor will prioritise the review of LASPO and commit to putting back funding for early advice to support the court reforms and ensure access to justice,’ he wrote.

A sense of perspective
Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith put the furore over Phil Shiner into a useful perspective. ‘Phil did some things he shouldn’t have done. But what’s worse, what he did as a lawyer or those who tortured people?’ the founder of the advocacy group Reprieve said. The lawyer was delivering the twentieth Graham Turnbull memorial lecture hosted by the Law Society’s human rights committee.

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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