JusticeWatch: The roadblock to recovery

The roadblock to recovery
Practical problems, such as facing eviction or losing one’s job, can cause or exacerbate mental health problems, according to a new report by Citizens Advice (The Roadblock to Recovery).

Last year over 100,000 people with mental health problems sought their help.

Almost two-thirds of mental health practitioners (65%) have seen an increase in clients raising practical problems during appointments, compared to a year earlier. These problems ranged from debt, housing to employment and beyond. Almost nine out of 10 (87%) said such problems forced clients either to cancel or miss their mental health appointments and 84% reported that problems made clients ‘struggle to complete their mental health treatment’.

‘The lack of integrated practical support in mental health services forces mental health practitioners to step in,’ Cit A said. ‘Most mental health practitioners rely on signposting to external agencies for practical support, providing leaflets and contact information. However, when signposting proves ineffective, practitioners feel pressured into spending clinical time solving problems themselves , because they do not have direct access to practical support. An example is such as filling in a benefits application or negotiating a financial plan with essential service providers.

‘I often see clients with desperate needs to resolve their practical problems. They are usually not ready for therapy. They need practical support first, but they may still need mental health support after. Then they have to wait to access therapy again.’
Saya, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner

Domestic violence false claims
The BBC reported that thousands of parents ‘falsely claim domestic abuse in order to access legal aid and stop estranged partners from seeing their children’. According to Families Need Fathers, parents are ‘being encouraged by some solicitors to file for non-molestation orders’.  ‘New figures show a 30% rise in orders made after legal aid was axed in everything but abuse cases in family courts in 2012,’ it reported. ‘Some 25,700 were made in England and Wales in 2017, and 6,699 in the first quarter of 2018.’

The LASPO reforms were ‘designed to reduce the number of cases in family courts, with separating couples being encouraged to attend mediation sessions instead, and to cut the legal aid bill’. But the charity reckons its case workers are seeing ‘thousands’ of parents, mainly fathers, who have been made subject to these orders for things that they do not consider to be domestic abuse.

According to the BBC: ‘The charity suspects that solicitors’ firms are talking parents into seeking such orders because it enables them to qualify for legal aid, from which both the legal profession and the complainant could benefit.’

Court fees
The Ministry of Justice has ‘admitted overcharging for a string of different court fees – with the lost income from reducing the fees set to cost around £9m a year’ – reported the Law Society’s Gazette. This followed the ‘Gazette’s revelation’ that some PI claimants had been overcharged by more than £100 for starting proceedings in the High Court and County Court since 2016.

The justice minister Lucy Frazer QC has been ‘forced to outline the mistakes in a written statement to parliament’, reported the Gazette. ‘The reduction to these fees follows a thorough and detailed review undertaken by officials in the Ministry of Justice into the cost of these proceedings,’ said Frazer. ‘Our review has identified a number of cases where the fees charged were above full cost recovery levels. We are therefore taking action to reduce those fees.’

Posh Boys
According to the Judicial Appointments Commission, of those lawyers recommended for judicial appointment, more than a third (35%) went to a fee-paying school compared to only 7% of the general population, according to Robert Verkaik writing for the Times’ Brief newsletter (here). The commission also found that public school-educated applicants had a greater appointment success rate: 17% compared with 13% for state school applicants.

The journalist and author of the new book Posh Boys: How the English public schools ruin Britain, cited a recent Sutton Trust report recently suggested that nearly three-quarters of senior judges were privately educated ‘much higher than among MPs, the cabinet or even the officer corps’.

What if a litigant suddenly discovered that the opposing litigant attended the same school as the judge? asked Verkaik. Should you win the case, your view would be that justice was served. ‘But losing to a litigant where the judge and the barristers may have been schooled together makes it more difficult to accept the outcome,’ he continued.

‘One way around the problem would be for the judge and counsel to declare their educations before the start of proceedings. Another would be to ensure the higher echelons of the judiciary comprise lawyers from all sections of society.’
Robert Verkaik

Law Commission
Meanwhile the chairman of the Law Commission told the House of Commons’ justice committee said that the law reform body would be compromised if its funding was cut – also reported in the Brief (here). ‘I don’t think we have got to that stage yet, but we would be compromised if we were confined to taking up subjects where departments want to pay us,’ Sir David Bean, a judge in the Court of Appeal, told MPs.

Sir David said that the commission had seen its budget cut by 54% from £4 million to £1.9 million since 2010.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Catherine Baksi interviewed barrister Jerry Hayes who was prosecuting counsel in the Liam Allan case whose trial was halted at the eleventh hour when the prosecution disclosed thousands of previously undisclosed text messages showing his innocence.

‘My job as a prosecutor is to be fair, I wasn’t prepared to stand by and see some kid get 12 years and be on the sexual offenders register for the rest of his life,’ Hayes told Baksi.

‘The reason the Liam Allen case pulled the media and the public’s heart-strings, was because this was a young man who could have been anyone’s son – to be brutally honest, a middle class boy from a decent family, of good character, who’d been charged with something very serious. If it had been a drug dealer, or someone in a gang, and disclosure hadn’t taken place, it wouldn’t have made the newspapers at all.’
Jerry Hayes

Baksi also reviewed my new book Guilty Until Proven Innocent ‘a powerful and timely critique’ that exposes ‘the catastrophic failings in the underfunded criminal justice system’ on her Legal Hackette blog.

‘Lawyers are tribal creatures and often reluctant to criticise senior judges. But Robins is not a lawyer; he is a journalist and author of the website The Justice Gap and he does not shy away from such criticism… It is a book that informs, shocks and demands a response. It demands justice.’
Catherine Baksi

Michael Mansfield QC spoke at the House of Commons at the launch of the book last week. ‘I reckon, probably more than most, I’m entitled to have observations about what has happened during my working lifetime,’ the human rights lawyers said reflecting on his 50 years as a barrister. ‘When I started things were going wrong then. There were problems with legal aid, problems with disclosure and representation. What I find shocking is that things have got worse.’

Mansfield flagged up the recent CPS review launched in the wake of a series of collapsed rape cases starting with the Liam Allan case before Christmas. The CPS revealed that problems with disclosure had been identified in 47 of 3,637 cases reviewed. ‘That is a lot,’ Mansfield said. ‘We know it is not restricted to sex offenders.’

Disclosure was ‘a boring topic’, Mansfield said. ‘But it has been a key to so many miscarriages of justice. Justice, transparency and getting at the truth requires the ability to have access to the information.’

Meanwhile the Criminal Cases Review Commission said that a lack of lawyers willing to represent victims of miscarriages of justice was contributing to a drop in referrals to the Court of Appeal – as reported in the Justice Gap. Only 19 cases were referred back to the court last year and 12 the previous year compared to a 33 a year average. ‘Good legal representatives undoubtedly have a very important role in CCRC applications,’ the CCRC said in its annual report.

‘We are concerned that the position with criminal legal aid is having an impact on the willingness of individuals and firms to do pro bono work in potential miscarriage of justice cases. We question whether the current conditions are acting as barriers to new representatives securing funding post-conviction, in which the trial representatives’ advice on appeal (which may or may not be good quality) is a key factor.’



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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