JusticeWatch: Speaking up for justice

Dig deep
The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service are crowdfunding to cover the costs of a challenge to the legal aid cuts to prison law that have resulted in prisoners’ access to justice being severely curtailed.

Pledge here.

Since the cuts came into force, conditions in prisons have deteriorated sharply. Violence and self-injury have risen to record levels, and more than 270 people in prison have taken their own lives. Calls to our charities have increased by almost 50 per cent. We are legally challenging the cuts because allowing all prisoners equal access to justice is the hallmark of a civilised society. Next January, the Court of Appeal will hear on our case.
Howard League and PAS

They need to raise £5,000 and are aiming for £25,000.

Speak up for Justice
The TUC in a new report out his week – see here on LegalVoice – described the savings delivered by cuts to legal aid for prison law as ‘tiny’. ‘But the human and social cost is huge and out of kilter with the rest of the government’s policy,’ it continued.

Also reporting on the union’s ‘Speak Up For Justice’ campaign, the Law Society’s Gazette said that the union was calling for a moratorium on further budget and staff cuts. It went on to surmise ‘a halt to further swingeing cuts’ appeared unlikely. ‘As the National Audit Office reported this week, the 2015 spending review requires the department to achieve savings of 15% and halve its administrative budget by 2020,’ it added.

No prizes for guessing what the MoJ spokesman had to say. ‘We have a generous legal aid system…,’ he told the Law Society Gazette (see last week’s JusticeWatch here).

The Gazette also reported that the MoJ has offered to provide greater flexibility over the scope of civil legal aid (despite a recent Court of Appeal ruling to the contrary). ‘Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald told MPs yesterday that the draft Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Amendment Regulations 2016 will broaden legal aid availability, enabling funding for certain cases that have a 45%-50% prospect of success,’ it reported.

In the dark
Richard Dunstan – who glories under the Twitter handle @wonkypolicywonk – blogged about the ‘justice-denying’ employment tribunal fees introduced in July 2013.

He started thus:

Q: How many Ministry of Justice ministers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: The Ministry’s plan for changing the lightbulb will be published in due course.

When it came to the MoJ’s review of the fees, the ministry ‘sure likes keeping us in the dark’. ‘Finally launched on 11 June 2015, some 14 months after Coalition (well, Liberal Democrat) ministers first started using the review as a fig leaf by suggesting it was just around the corner, the review team had produced a report by early last October,’ Dunstan wrote. ‘However, 12 months on, that report is still sitting on ministers’ desks, despite the then junior minister, Dominic Raab, telling MPs as long ago as 4 July that he anticipated publishing it ‘in the near future’. And, by mid-September, ‘in the near future’ had regressed to ‘in due course’.’

Hackney Community Law Centre’s Diane Morrison has won a big case in the employment tribunal. She represented a former local authority employee forced to resign from her job after eight years of service and was awarded over £33,000 in damages. HCLC point out that the client had been reduced to working on a zero-hours basis and would not have been able to fund her case or pay for representation at the Tribunal.

‘On a day when it has been made clear that according to government data, more than a third of successful claimants at Employment Tribunals never receive any of their compensation, and less than half are paid in full, it is refreshing to hear of Diane’s success,’ said HCLC chair Ian Rathbone.

Morrison’s post is funded by the Trust for London. ‘Once again this kind of situation shows that if all people are to have the opportunity of access to justice, the Government has to do much, much more to fund such work through the legal aid mechanism and to put legislation in place to make sure employers cough up for their mistreatment of their employees,’ said Rathbone.

Legal aid lawyers had a good night at last night’s Law Society’s Excellence Awards. Winners include John Halford of Bindmans (solicitor of the year); Chris Topping of the Jackson Canter Group (Human Rights Lawyer of the Year); Jackson Canter (pro bono); and Ranjit Uppal of Switalskis Solicitors (solicitor advocate). Congratulations to all the winners.




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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