JusticeWatch: ‘We want a new generation of publicly funded social welfare lawyers – not just pro bono volunteers’

Access to justice for all
‘We don’t just want to be a law centre, but a campaign for law centres generally,’ John Nicholson, chair of Greater Manchester Law Centre told Solicitors Journal. ‘Nor do we want only to provide a bit of service delivery, important though that is, on the lines of food banks – we are a campaign for properly funded legal aid.’

‘We want a new generation of publicly funded social welfare lawyers, not just pro bono volunteers, especially not if this is masking the severity of cuts and closures – we are a campaign for access to justice for all. We do not want to be an isolated organisation, competing with others for the crumbs of statutory sector funding, we want to work with others to campaign for more for all of us.’
John Nicholson, Greater Manchester Law Centre

Travesties and technicalities
The families of the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings look set to finally get legal aid at new inquests because of proposed change in the law, reported ITV. ‘The change sees a change in a technicality that prevented the Legal Aid Agency from awarding funding to non-UK lawyers because they were “out of jurisdiction”,’ it was reported.

KRW, the Belfast firm, acting for the families of some of those killed in the deadly 1974 blasts had called for an ‘equality of arms’ on funding to allow them to take a full part in the hearings.

‘It would be a travesty for families to be denied justice simply because of a technicality. Which is why I have taken the decision to change the regulations around inquest funding. This will remove any barrier from the families’ solicitors in applying for legal aid funding for the inquest. I urge KRW to seize this opportunity to access the funds for these families.’
Sir Oliver Heald QC, minister for legal aid

Plans to axe Human Rights Act on hold
The government’s plans to scrap the Human Rights Act are on hold indefinitely or ‘until the complex issues’ around Brexit are sorted, reported www.rightinfo.org. During Justice Questions, Sir Oliver said: ‘We are committed to reforming our domestic human rights framework and we will return to our proposals once we know the arrangements for our exit from the European Union.’ He went on to say that he thought it was ‘important for us to sort out… the exit from the EU before we return to that subject’.

Perfect storm
The decimation of legal aid, benefits caps, a chronic social housing shortage fuelling the use of private and temporary accommodation and increasing rents has created a perfect storm which I am seeing every day in my case load,’ argued Sophie Bell, a lawyer specialising in homelessness at Hodge Jones & Allen. She was commenting about the news that more than 4,000 people a night have been sleeping rough on England’s streets, a 16% increase on last year.

According to Bell, local authorities frequently sought to ‘deny that applicants are vulnerable and therefore in “priority need” despite clear and severe mental and physical health issues, and they seem prepared to fight these decisions tooth and nail’. She cited a recent vigorously fought by Westminster Council for more than two years concerning a client who suffered from mental health issues and was forced to live in his car. ‘This has only been resolved after a successful court appeal and now the council has been forced to house this individual,’ Bells said.

Class ceiling
Solicitors from poorer backgrounds ‘could be earning up to £6,800 less than colleagues from more affluent families’, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. A report by the Social Mobility Commission reckoned that ‘traditional’ professions such as law remain were dominated by workers from privileged backgrounds. It reckoned that those from working-class backgrounds faced a significant ‘class pay gap’ in both the higher and lower division of the professions. This translates into ‘an annual earnings pay gap of 17% or £6,800-a-year compared to those from professional backgrounds’.

The digitally excluded
Plans to extend online courts to employment cases ran ‘the risk of excluding swathes of workers from the existing tribunal system’, reported the Times’ Brief daily email bulletin.

‘We urge the government to ensure that digitally-excluded persons and other vulnerable groups are afforded adequate protection as part of the reforms,’ the Employment Lawyers Association said in its response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on reforming employment tribunals. The group argued that ‘an online system must not be compulsory for all employment tribunal claims. Making an online system available but not compulsory can still achieve savings without excluding potential users of the tribunal system.’

Domestic violence reform
Senior judges are ‘taking steps to end the presumption that a father must have contact with a child where there is evidence of domestic abuse that would put the child or mother at risk’, reported the Guardian. The reforms follow a campaign by Women’s Aid, which identified that 19 children have been killed in the last 10 years by their violent fathers after being given contact with them by judges.

‘It is indeed most disturbing to note that for at least 12 children [in seven families], of the 19 children killed … contact with the perpetrator [the father] was arranged through the family courts,’ Mr Justice Cobb noted. ‘For six families, this contact was arranged in family court hearings [two of these were interim orders], and for one family, contact was decided as part of the arrangements for a non-molestation order and occupational order.’

Jokes4justiceJokes for Justice
Nish Kumar, Sofie Hagen, Jonny & the Baptists and Sophie Willan will perform at Jokes for Justice, a comedy fundraiser for South West London Law Centres to be held on the 23rd February 2017 – 7.00pm at The Bedford Pub in Balham (77 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9HD).


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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