JusticeWatch: ‘We’re not just a law centre. We’re a campaign for justice’

Final straw
Writing in the Guardian, Francis Ryan recalled the impact of the 2013 LASPO cuts when, as she put it, ‘the legal aid budget was gutted by £350m a year’. ‘Overnight, a cancer patient found “fit for work” or a cleaner sacked for falling pregnant was priced out of the legal system,’ Ryan said. ‘At the same time, local councils feeling the squeeze of austerity began to pull funding from welfare rights services, debt advice centres and law centres. In a matter of years, face-to-face expert advice largely turned into a helpline or a website.’

She was reporting  on the launch of the Greater Manchester Law Centre. ‘We’re not just a law centre. We’re a campaign for justice,’ John Nicholson, barrister and chair of the GMLC, told her.

‘John Nicholson is 62 and has lived in the area since he was a teenager. He’s watched his local Citizens Advice shut its doors, and the wider region become what he calls “a desert for legal advice”. Neighbouring Salford’s welfare rights and debt advice services was cut four years ago. When the South Manchester Law Centre closed in 2014 – the last free legal service in central Manchester and Salford – for Nicholson and others in the community, it was the final straw, and the impetus to do something.’
Francis Ryan

On Open Democracy, Justice First Fellow Ronagh Craddock wrote about ‘one of the least reported devastations’ caused by the legal aid cuts’: the impact on asylum seekers.

Free legal help was in theory available to assist with certain asylum support problems, she argued. ‘However, in reality, there is a serious shortage of providers – not least because the work is poorly paid, making it financially unsustainable for most solicitors firms,’ she wrote. ‘My own firm, Ben Hoare Bell solicitors, is one of the few remaining firms offering this service, and we cannot keep up with demand.’

Jokes for Justice
Nish Kumar, Sofie Hagen, Jonny & the Baptists and Sophie Willan will perform at Jokes for Justice, a comedy fundraiser for South West London Law Centres to be held on the 23rd February 2017 – 7.00pm at The Bedford Pub in Balham (77 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9HD).


On the naughty step
Solicitor advocate and partner at Liverpool firm Parry Welch Lacey, James Parry, recalled his encounter with Des Hudson, Law Society chief exec, after his motion of no confidence in the Society’s leadership.

It turned into a bit of a haranguing – I was stood on the naughty step for 15 minutes while he gave me his opinion on what I was doing. We had to agree to disagree’.

Speaking to Catherine Baksi for her blog (here), Parry described the MoJ’s proposed reforms to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme as ‘grossly unfair to the junior bar and solicitor advocates. It restores an increase to silks, but juniors will suffer’. The lawyer said that the rate offered to junior advocates was ‘not far off burger-flipping money’.

‘The strange thing about my transformation from terrorist to insider, is that when I started the vote of no confidence I had no idea that the criminal law committee existed. I knew very little about the way the Law Society worked. I think that’s part of its problem’.
James Parry

Crisis on the bench
More than 40% of senior judges intended to quit early within five years ‘reflecting widespread disenchantment on the bench’, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. That was apparently the key finding in the Judicial Attitude Survey. Under half of judges (43%) felt valued by the public (down from 49% in 2014); and just 2% and 3% respectively felt valued by government and media (each down a percentage point).

‘When judges are vilified for evaluating whether Parliament should play a role in the Brexit debate – criticised, in other words, for judging, which is their job – this reflects a strange misunderstanding of the nature of constitutional law,’ wrote Clive Stafford Smith for the Justice Gap. ‘And yet it cannot be denied that sometimes judges prove that they are out of touch with the world around them.’ The human rights lawyer was talking about the bizarre ruling of the Court of Appeal in the case of Mehmet Ordu v. The Crown – in which the court refused a man an appeal because, in their view, quashing the conviction ‘would actually make no real difference to the applicant’s life at all’.

‘The primary duty of a judge is, surely, to protect the weak against the almost omnipotence of government. The judge’s sense of being overworked is not a principle on which to limit legal rights – it is an argument for greater judicial resources.’
Clive Stafford Smith

Meanwhile the Appeal judges were ‘told to stop [writing] unnecessarily long judgments’. ‘The idea was revealed in a new “short judgement” by Lady Justice Rafferty, which was just 24 paragraphs long and ran to fewer than 1,200 words,’ reported the Telegraph. The news went down well with Lee Monks, from the Plain English Campaign. ‘For many years we’ve tried in vain to get those in the legal profession to ditch impenetrable language.’

Shiner fall out
The human rights lawyer Martyn Day is to face a seven-week misconduct processes, The Times reported. The senior partner of Leigh Day, personal injury partner Sapna Malik, and the firm itself apparently face a total of 57 allegations that they breached professional rules covering referral payments and fee-sharing agreements.

As reported on LegalVoice, Phil Shiner was struck off last week. Leigh Day worked with Public Interest Lawyers on the al-Sweady cases after Shiner realised that the workload was too large for his small team.

While the charges were similar to those faced by Shiner, the Times reported that the firm’s approach to the allegations was ‘starkly different’. ‘Shiner eventually admitted most of the allegations, disputing only those relating to dishonesty, which were ultimately found to be proved. He was also not represented by lawyers at the final tribunal hearing. Day and Malik strongly deny the allegations and have assembled a powerful legal team to represent them at the tribunal hearing.’

Serious difficulties
Defence lawyer Karen Todner, director of London firm Kaim Todner, has accepted a £2,000 penalty after failing to report to the SRA indicators of serious difficulty, according to the Law Society’s Gazette. Delays in legal aid payments contributed to the problem. The SRA agreement said that what ‘turned a manageable situation into one which was only manageable through an insolvency process was an unexpected announcement of a delay of many months in the payment of one very large bill representing 10 years’ work’ and a ‘hardening of the attitude of HMRC’.




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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