JusticeWatch: Something’s got to give

Something’s got to give
‘I’d urge law students not to be deterred from publicly funded work,’ the Secret Barrister told Legal Cheek this week. ‘The current underfunding of legal aid is simply not sustainable, and I have a perhaps naïve faith that something is going to give in the next few years. But either way, there will always be people who need access to good legal aid lawyers. And I would always advise that we fight for legal aid rather than flee.’

According to the latest stats from the Ministry of Justice, divorcing couples in a dispute over children or finances go to court without a lawyer in more than one third of cases (36%). According to a report in the Times Brief newsletter, the scrapping of legal aid in the majority of divorce-related disputes has led to ‘a 20% rise in litigants in person’.

Tank-chasing lawyers
‘Iraq tank-chasing lawyer Martyn Day branded dishonest in official report’, was how The Sun reported its coverage of criticism by one of three Solicitors Disciplinary Panel members over his role in the Al-Sweady inquiry into claims of torture in Iraq. The panel found the claims were false but Day was cleared of professional misconduct charges. Disagreeing with his colleagues, Richard Hegarty said he did not find Day to be a ‘credible, honest or convincing witness‘.

Law Society ‘rigging’ market claim
The Law Society has settled the case that saw the Competition Appeal Tribunal rule that that it abused a dominant position, as reported by Legal Futures.

The tribunal upheld Socrates’ Training claim that the Chancery Lane had abused its dominant position by requiring over 3,000 law firms to buy its fraud training for their Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) accreditation. ‘The details of the agreement on damages and costs are confidential, which was criticised by the director of Socrates Training, the successful claimant, who also questioned the Law Society’s behaviour throughout the matter,’ it continued.

Bernard George, Socrates’ director, told the site it was ‘odd’ for the Law Society to keep the amount it had to pay to settle the case confidential from its members and argued that the society had behaved ‘badly’ from start to finish.

‘First it sought to rig a competitive market, to the manifest disadvantage not just of training businesses, but of law firms,’ he said. ‘Second it raised spurious defences and supposed justifications, presumably in the hope that we could be discouraged from pursuing a claim they must have known was well founded. Third they put forward flawed evidence, which attracted strong criticism from the president of the Competition Appeal Tribunal. It has been a long, expensive and stressful process, to make our own professional body obey the law.’

A Law Society spokesman said that the tribunal did not make any finding or contention that the Law Society ‘deliberately sought to profiteer from the sale of CQS training’.

Judges were capable of seeing offenders as human beings – if they have a degree from Oxford
The leniency shown by the courts to ‘promising’ Oxford graduate Lavinia Woodward reveals ‘the social and racial inequality at the core of our justice system’, argues Afua Hirsch in the Guardian

The journalist reckoned that the recent report by David Lammy found that our justice system favoured people ‘like Woodward on a systemic scale‘. ‘White people are less likely to go to prison – where ethnic minorities make up 12% of the population despite representing only 3% of society. White offending is treated differently by the media,’ she said.

Hirsch pointed to the debate in academic circles as to ‘whether social deprivation should be taken into account by judges when sentencing – an idea which remains controversial’. ‘During the riots in 2011, when hundreds of young people – a disproportionate number from deprived backgrounds – were given harsher than average sentences, we went in the opposite direction.’

‘Now it seems when it comes to sentencing more leniently for privilege however – which no one actually intellectually supports – our courts are just getting on and doing it. Woodward’s case is a welcome reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way. Judges are quite capable of seeing offenders as human beings, capable of redemption, deserving of help, support and second chances. If they are wealthy, white, and have an Oxford degree, that is.’
Afua Hirsch

People alleging sexual assault or rape were wrongly questioned about their sexual history at trial in nearly three-quarters of cases, according to a survey reported in the Times. A survey of more than 550 trials over two years found that the law that protects against such questioning was ‘not being applied as it should’ and many complainants were ‘ambushed during cross-examination’.

The survey by Lime Culture (here), a leading sexual violence training organisationfound that many alleged victims were questioned in breach of guidelines. ‘In 28% of cases they were not notified of such questioning. In 44% of cases, they were notified only after the trial had started,’ it was reported.

Opening of legal year ‘privileges Christianity
The annual Anglican service at Westminster Abbey marking the official opening of the legal year should be scrapped, according to the National Secular Society – as reported by the Guardian. The group has written to the lord chancellor, David Lidington, calling for the ceremony to be cancelled ‘on the grounds that it perpetuates the medieval belief that church and state are closely intertwined’.

As Owen Bowcott put it: ‘The ceremony ends in one of the defining images of the British constitution: judges in their wigs, purple-edged gowns and gilt regalia processing from the abbey across the road into parliament for the lord chancellor’s breakfast.’

It added ‘nothing to judicial competence and’ served ‘only to privilege Christianity and undermine the impartiality of the judiciary’, the National Secular Society claimed.

Birmingham Pub bombings
Labour has backed calls for families of the Birmingham Pub Bombings victims to receive legal funding so they can be properly represented at fresh inquests. According to the Birmingham Mail, Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, and Richard Burgon, the Shadow Justice Secretary, have written to the Government insisting that the relatives need financial support ‘to properly and fully pursue justice in memory of their loved ones‘.

In a letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Justice Secretary Liz Truss, they said:

‘This is an exceptional case. These families have suffered the trauma of the bombings and the loss of their family members, and witnessed the conviction and the subsequent overturning of the decisions in the cases of the Birmingham Six. Despite the campaigning of civic leaders, community figures and the Birmingham Mail, the families remain waiting for justice 42 years later.’



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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