JusticeWatch: The persecution industry

The persecution industry
For the Daily Mail Phil Shiner’s disgrace – the lawyer was struck off yesterday – was one in the eye for the human rights industry. ‘To this country’s self-righteous legal establishment – which garlanded him with awards – he was a campaigner for justice, and newspaper criticism of him was just ‘media-manufactured vilification’,’ began its leader today. ‘Well now the truth is clear. As the Mail long suspected, human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, who more than anyone led the shameful witch-hunt against our armed forces, was utterly corrupt.’

Owen Bowcott in the Guardian, charted the lawyer’s ‘vertiginous fall from grace’. ‘Supporters, formerly vocal but now largely silent, dismissed attacks against him as a vendetta initiated by tabloid newspapers in response to the large number of cases he brought against British soldiers and the Ministry of Defence,’ Bowcott wrote.

‘This professional humiliation will force future historians to navigate through an extraordinary switchback of fictitious allegations, difficult duties and occasions of genuine military misbehaviour, when they come to write the final record of British military conduct during the Iraq war.’
Owen Bowcott, Guardian

There was a perceptive observation from former JUSTICE chair Roger Smith. He told Jonathan Ames in the Times’ brief newsletter that he didn’t regret honouring the now disgraced lawyer with a JUSTICE/Liberty award back in 2004. Ames wrote: ‘As someone who has known Shiner for some 30 years, he clearly sees and understands Shiner’s shortcomings: focused determination to the point of blinkered obsessiveness. But, as Smith points out, those very faults that ultimately caused Shiner to lose sight of professional integrity and even honesty were also crucial in providing him with the tenacity to fight the system and military establishment legitimately.’

The Mail called for the criminal investigation into the lawyer’s conduct to be ‘pursued relentlessly’. Whilst his downfall would be ‘cheered by thousands of innocent soldiers whose lives he made a misery’, the paper asserted that there were ‘still dozens of active Iraq investigations despite not one successful prosecution’. ‘Ministers must end this persecution industry now, and the legal profession should examine how Shiner got away with it for all these years while it was busy attacking the Press,’ it continued. .

Alternative facts
‘Whatever Tory ministers might say, the reality is that the employment tribunal fees which the Tories introduced in 2013 with the help of their Liberal Democrat stooges were all about weakening workers’ rights and protecting unscrupulous bosses,’ wrote shadow justice minister Richard Burgon in the Mirror. The number of cases had ‘plummeted by 70% – if only unfair and illegal treatment by bosses had reduced at the same rate!’

Burgon quoted Len McCluskey of Unite saying that the government was ‘dealing in alternative facts to claim that both the fall in employment tribunal applications is greater than they anticipated and that people are not losing out’. Labour’s policy was clear: ‘a Labour government would abolish employment tribunal fees’.

‘Ideological’ cuts
On Tuesday the Appeal judges turned their attention to the cuts to legal aid for prisoners. Back in July 2015, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service won the right to challenge the government’s decision to cut legal aid for prisoners, including children.

As the Howard League and PAS pointed out, since the cuts came into force in December 2013, violence and self-injury in prisons has risen to ‘record levels’. ‘Almost 300 people have lost their lives through suicide,’ they said. ‘More prisoners than ever before have called the Howard League and PAS to seek help. Calls to the two charities’ advice lines have increased by almost 50 per cent since the cuts were imposed.’

As a result of the cuts introduced by the then justice secretary Chris Grayling (who notoriously described them as ideological), a prisoner who is being considered for transfer to an open prison, but not release, cannot get legal representation unless they pay; nor can prisoners stuck in the system struggling to access the courses they need to become safe for release.

‘Within the prison population are some of the most vulnerable members of society. There is a huge over-representation of the mentally unwell, those suffering from learning or other disability and the illiterate. For a proportion of those prisoners the removal of legal aid makes it impossible for them to engage fairly in decision making processes that will have a huge impact on their lives, rendering those decision making processes inherently unfair.’
Howard League/ PAS skeleton argument

Unacceptably haphazard
Also on Tuesday was the launch of the open justice charter in Westminister. Steven Avery’s lawyers lent their support to a new campaign which comprises a series of demands for greater transparency and accountability in the justice system, as reported by the Justice Gap.

The charter, which features in the latest issue of Proof magazine, highlights the automatic destruction of court transcripts. ‘That the MoJ would destroy court transcripts at all, let alone after a period as short seven years, should deeply disturb all Britons,’ Dean Strang said in an interview for the Justice Gap ahead of the meeting. ‘When you have lost the transcript of trial proceedings you have made it, if not impossible, then a damned sight harder for anyone to review the safety or reliability of that conviction. I find that unacceptably haphazard.’

Speaking ahead of the charter launch, Michael Mansfield QC said that the Hillsborough inquests had put open justice issues into the spotlight. ‘The steady stream of British justice is in danger of becoming no more than a trickle,’ Mansfield, who acted for the Hillsborough families, told the Justice Gap. It has already been ‘deprived of the necessary public funding’ for the protection of rights, but Mansfield argued that ‘equally important’ was access to the record of proceedings, and case documentation ‘without which injustice can be washed away’.

‘The biggest challenge to our justice system in recent years has been delivered by the Hillsborough inquests. That was accomplished by disclosure and re-examination of documents. Shining the light on such matters rarely comes from inside the system itself but from the tireless efforts of those on the outside, invariably the victims and survivors often empowered by intrepid journalists. The need for this charter is now more important than ever.’
Michael Mansfield QC

No need to rush
Lord Sumption was right after all, noted the Times. It was a reference to an interview with the Supreme Court judge in the Evening Standard where he cautioned women lawyers ‘to be patient’ when it came to expectations for gender parity on the bench. It would take women 50 years to achieve equality of numbers with men in the senior ranks of the judiciary, the Times reported. According to the Bar Standards Board, there was ‘still a long way to go with men accounting for nearly nine out of ten QCs at the bar’. ‘According to the board’s annual diversity report, on current trends, the women silks who will help achieve judicial parity have yet to be born,’ it continued. ‘The percentage of women barristers increased by 0.6 per cent in the past year to 36.5 per cent; just shy of 14 per cent of all practising silks are female — a rise over the year of only 0.7 per cent.’



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

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.