Prisons crisis – and the legal aid cuts
‘Since cuts to legal aid for prisoners came into force in December 2013, violence and self-injury in prisons have risen to record levels,’ wrote Laura Janes of the Howard League for Penal Reform for Open Democracy. ‘Almost 300 people have lost their lives through suicide.’
Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal ruled that the cuts were unlawful after a three-year legal battle by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS).
‘Since the case was launched in 2013, both charities have seen requests for legal help rise by over 50 per cent. In the same period, prison conditions have plummeted to unacceptable levels. This deterioration has been compounded by inadequate staffing.’
Laura Janes, Howard League
As a result of the judgment and concessions along the way, Janes reckoned ‘85% of the areas where we challenged the removal of legal aid by Chris Grayling have either been restored or deemed unlawful’.
For the chop
Will Liz Truss be shuffled? asked Joshua Rozenberg in a blog for the Law Society’s Gazette.
Truss was ‘a likeable, approachable politician, well able to hold her own with parliament and the press’, the journalist reckoned. But ‘when dealing with senior judges, she comes across as a lightweight’, he said.
Earlier this month the Daily Telegraph reported senior government sources saying that the prime minister was coming under pressure from cabinet ministers to ‘strip Liz Truss of her role as Lord Chancellor’ – see here. The Sun also reported that the Theresa May was looking to go on a post election ‘chopping spree’. The PM was ‘sharpening her blade for a post-election reshuffle’ and ‘working on a hit list which could see high profile Tories including Boris Johnson and Liz Truss axed from top jobs’.
Rozenberg quoted the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd’s on Truss’s failure to stand up for the judiciary after the press onslaught over the article 50 litigation. ‘I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have, but to my mind she is completely and absolutely wrong about this,’ he said. ‘It really is absolutely essential that we have a lord chancellor who understands her constitutional duty.’
‘It is hard to see how Truss can survive measured and devastating criticism like this from the most senior judge in England and Wales. Thomas will have more to say about her in a lecture he is to deliver in parliament on 15 June. But by then, if the prime minister is attuned to the views of those with whom the lord chancellor must maintain a close working relationship, Truss may no longer be custodian of the great seal.’
A point of principle
The widow of a man stabbed to death in a random attack outside his London home has been denied legal aid to be represented at his inquest, reported the Guardian.
Jeroen Ensink, an internationally renowned water engineer and academic, was killed in December 2015 by student Femi Nandap, 23, who had paranoid schizophrenia.
‘I’ve been denied legal aid, although both CPS and the police are legally represented, the police by a QC. That’s unfair,’ said his widow Nadja Ensink-Teich after a pre-inquest hearing at St Pancras coroner’s court. ‘I sincerely hope that this process will provide answers. I want justice for Jeroen and also for Fleur.’
‘No bereaved family should be left in a position where they have to fundraise to pay for legal representation at an article 2 inquest, where public authorities engage lawyers to defend or justify their own conduct. This is a point of principle and there needs to be equality of arms.’
Cock up – not conspiracy
The silk representing Leigh Day at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing said the firm’s failure to recognise the significance of an Iraqi document that identified its clients as militiamen rather than civilians was a ‘cock-up’, rather than a lack of integrity.
As reported in the Guardian, Patricia Robertson QC in a reference to ‘Leigh Day’s regret over aspects of the case’ quoted words attributed to Queen Mary on hearing of the loss of the Calais in battle in 1558: she said Calais was ‘carved on her heart’.
‘[Lawyers] don’t always prove to be right about how cases turn out,’ Robertson said. ‘Nor are we always [right] about the judgment we make about other human beings.’
The lawyer ‘warned that if the tribunal came up with “the wrong answer” to the charges against Leigh Day, it would “have a chilling effect on the willingness of lawyers to act in difficult cases”.’
The criminal defence community faced ‘an anxious wait’ to find out if there were further legal aid fee cuts heading its way, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association confirmed that the government would not issue its response to consultations on reforming graduated fee schemes for advocates and litigators until after the election.
‘We appreciate that these periods of uncertainty are stressful for members and we will continue to oppose any further cuts to legal aid.’
Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association
A radical overhaul of the solicitor qualification regime which would jettison the need for a university degree has been postponed by two years, regulators announced yesterday, according to the Times’ Brief daily email
‘The ‘solicitors qualifying examination’ had first been mooted to come into effect next year, but yesterday the SRA confirmed that it would be delayed until September 2020,’ it reported.
The government’s attempt to block a legal route used by many people to appeal against benefits decisions was defeated at the Upper Tribunal, reported Natalie Bloomer for Politics.co.uk.
The site had reported that the DWP was using the case of Jayson and Charlotte Carmichael, who successfully challenged the bedroom tax at the Supreme Court, to ‘try to stop other people from relying on the Human Rights Act when bringing a similar appeal’. ‘It’s an absolute disgrace that disabled families have to put their lives into fighting for human rights in 2017,’ Carmichael said. ‘We hope our fight, during the election campaign, draws voters’ attention to this.’
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