JusticeWatch: Rehabilitation – not revenge

Weapons-grade shithousery
Boris Johnson was accused of plagiarism – not to mention ‘weapons-grade shithousery’ – by the Secret Barrister for having ‘basically copied and pasted my blog post’ (as reported in the Independent). Over the weekend the PM posted a 16 tweet thread on the London Bridge terror case about sentencing which bore an uncanny resemblance to the anonymous blogger’s work.

SB’s blog also included criticism of Johnson for trying to ‘score cheap political points’ in the wake of the tragedy and accused the government of ‘outright lying’ about the background to Usman Khan’s early release but, as the Indy noted, these were not repeated.

Rehabilitation not revenge
Jack Merritt’s father, David wrote an extraordinary and moving article about his son and his commitment to improving the lot of the less fortunate for the Guardian. ‘If Jack could comment on his death – and the tragic incident on Friday 29 November – he would be livid,’ David Merritt said. ‘We would see him ticking it over in his mind before a word was uttered between us. Jack would understand the political timing with visceral clarity.’

‘He would be seething at his death, and his life, being used to perpetuate an agenda of hate that he gave his everything fighting against. We should never forget that. What Jack would want from this is for all of us to walk through the door he has booted down, in his black Doc Martens. That door opens up a world where we do not lock up and throw away the key. Where we do not give indeterminate sentences, or convict people on joint enterprise. Where we do not slash prison budgets, and where we focus on rehabilitation not revenge.’
David Merritt

The grieving father finished with the following exhortation: ‘Jack believed in the inherent goodness of humanity, and felt a deep social responsibility to protect that. Through us all, Jack marches on. Borrow his intelligence, share his drive, feel his passion, burn with his anger, and extinguish hatred with his kindness. Never give up his fight.’

Promises that read like threats
I wrote about the Tory party’s election manifesto commitments on justice for the New Law Journal. Not a single one recognised the urgent need for investment. ‘Instead their manifesto, if delivered, would represent an unprecedented clampdown on the perceived excesses of ‘soft justice’ (to use Boris Johnson’s own phrase),’ I continued. ‘… This, the Conservative Campaign HQ has decided, is what the public wants to hear. Witness the shameful way in which the tragedy of the London Bridge attacks has been weaponised by politicians.’

I pointed out that the words ‘legal aid’ did not feature in Boris Johnson’s manifesto. However there was a single mention of ‘access to justice’ in the following ‘strikingly opaque section’: ‘After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.’

‘If that wasn’t disconcerting enough, the manifesto goes on to pledge to ‘update’ the Human Rights Act and ensure that judicial review is available ‘to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state’ while ensuring that it was ‘not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays’. Promises that read like threats.’
Jon Robins

YLAL hustings
The Young Legal Aid Lawyers are hosting a hustings on access to justice issues on Monday. ‘This is your opportunity to ask representatives from the main political parties about their manifesto commitments on justice issues,’ the groups says. The event features Tristan Honeybourne, Conservative Party; Rhona Friedman, Green Party; Hannah Gomersall, Labour Party; and James Sandbach, Liberal Democrats. Book here.

Legal aid billing system
Legal aid lawyers have begun ‘testing a replacement for the Legal Aid Agency’s controversial online billing system’, reported the Law Society Gazette. ‘The agency revealed earlier this year that it will roll out an Apply for Legal Aid service “which will reduce dependency” on the client and cost management system, which has been beset with problems.’ The Legal Aid Practitioners Group said beta testing for the new service begins this week, saying; ‘The LAA has explained that there will be a phased approach to the development of the Apply service, which will allow the LAA digital team to seek feedback from users and make any necessary changes before more providers are brought on board.’

Empty benches
The 108-strong High Court was currently ‘10 judges short and it has rarely been full since 2015’, wrote Jane Croft in the Financial Times. Lord Burnett, the lord chief justice of England and Wales, told judges at a dinner in July: ‘This year, we are seeing the problem in filling vacancies in the High Court and the circuit bench, extend to the district bench.’

‘Top lawyers are usually attracted to sit on the bench because of its high prestige, public service ethos and the prospect of shaping the law,’ the article continued. ‘A generous pension was another draw for many self-employed barristers even though the £188,901 salary is paltry compared to the £1m those at the top of the profession can earn.’

But, Croft argued, a 25% cut in funding to the justice system since 2010-11 has ‘dulled the position’s allure’. ‘A less generous judicial pension scheme introduced for new judges in 2015 led to more than 240 judges suing the government. They argued that judges born after April 1957 were being treated less favourably than older colleagues,’ it read.

Pro bono awards
It was LawWorks’ annual pro bono awards which included a lecture by Lady Hale. Congrats to the winners listed below:

  • Best contribution by a small firm: Emma Williams Family Law.
  • Best Contribution by a Medium Firm: Morrison & Foerster.
  • Best Contribution by a Large Firm: Howard Kennedy.
  • Best contribution by an in-house team: Visa.
  • Best contribution by an individual: Andrew Lidbetter – Herbert Smith Freehills.
  • Junior Lawyers Division Pro Bono Award: Imene Hamdi-Cherif – Ashurst.
  • LawWorks Cymru Award: University of South Wales Legal Advice Clinic
  • Best International Pro Bono Award: Dechert
  • Best contribution by a pro bono clinic: Cardiff Law School Pro Bono Clinic.
  • Best New Pro Bono Activity: BID Exceptional Case Funding Project with Bail for Immigration Detainees, Ashurst, Debevoise & Plimpton, Dechert and Orrick.
  • Most Effective Pro Bono Partnership: Mencap Legal Network Pro Bono Programme.

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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