Telling truth to power – through knitting

Wool, Flickr, Trevor DickinsonJusticeWatch: August 5

Telling truth to power – through knitting
Brooks Newmark, in his first speech as civic society minister, got off to a flying start when he demonstrated his innate empathy for his brief by instructing charities to ‘stick to their knitting’ and not to ‘stray into the realm of politics’. Pic from Flickr by Trevor Dickinson

‘The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting and doing the best they can to promote their agenda, which should be about helping others.’
Brooks Newmark

Newmark’s comments were condemned as ‘patronising rubbish’ by Lisa Nandy, the shadow minister for civil society. ‘It’s his first speech as charities minister, and I think it’s not just patronising but actually deeply offensive at a time when charities are picking up the pieces from this government’s awful, unfair policies, that their ministers would talk about them in such a dismissive way,’ she said.

Guardian readers were quick to point out that knitting could actually be a political activity. ‘My charity knitting began in the 1990s, helping people who could not afford their poll tax,’ began Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty in a letter to the paper. ‘Around 5,000 people were sent to prison by the magistrates for non-payment. Over 1,000 of those imprisonments were found to be unlawful by the high court.’ Jeanie Molyneux wrote that the minister was ‘clearly unaware’ of an event organised by CND and Wool against Weapons last month. A seven-mile knitted scarf was unfurled between Aldermaston and Burghfield to protest against.

‘Long may charity knitting involve telling the uncomfortable truth to power.’
Rev Nicolson

It was hard to think of ‘a better example of civic responsibility in action than the 22,000 generous volunteers of the Citizens Advice service doing what they can to make society better’, wrote Toby Brown of Citizens Advice in a brief history of the network on its 75th anniversary.

‘The first 200 bureaux opened at the outbreak of the Second World War, run by ‘people of standing’ in the community to help and advise people during the war. Fast forward 75 years to today, and the Citizens Advice service provides advice from more than 3,900 community locations in England and Wales to over 3 million people. And we help two thirds of those people to successfully resolve their problem.’
Toby Brown

Society was ‘indebted to the free and impartial advice our volunteers provide to people day in day out,’ wrote Brown. ‘They should be a source of inspiration for all those in public service.’

My hero, my solicitor
Brace yourselves the Law Society has a new campaign.

It’s 10 years since the marketing brains at Chancery Lane dreamed up a billboard campaign with the winning slogan ‘My Hero, My Solicitor‘. It featured a series of posters where, er, ‘heroic’ lawyers saved grateful clients from lives of misery. ‘Me and my children were about to be evicted from our home when my solicitor stepped in. We still got evicted, but my solicitor agreed to wait a week before suing me for his fees. My Hero, My Solicitor,” That sort of thing,’ as Marcel Berlins put it (here).

The latest campaign isn’t quite as snappy (or as daft). It’s called: ‘Use a Professional. Use a Solicitor’. The idea is to ‘encourage people to tap into the expert knowledge of regulated and insured Law Society members‘. ‘The growth of unregulated and do-it-yourself legal services means consumers are exposed to non-professional advice, which can be more of a hindrance than a help,’ says Andrew Caplen, Law Society president.

One of the new ads features a picture of a wedding cake with the groom’s head stuck in the icing and the caption: ‘For better, for worse. Have your cake and eat it – get a fair settlement.’

It was up to family lawyer John Bolch to identify the LASPO-shaped elephant in the room. As of April last year the Government abolished legal aid for most private family law matters and that has ‘inevitably meant that those who cannot afford to instruct a solicitor have turned to cheaper unregulated and uninsured providers’. The ‘less well off’ were ‘condemned to a second-rate service where providers are unqualified and where there is little or no chance of recompense if things should go wrong’, he argued.

‘So, it is all very well for the Law Society to encourage consumers to use a solicitor, but many of them simply cannot afford to do so. Of course, I am not blaming the Law Society for this. The fault lies squarely with the Government, which sacrificed equal justice for all in order to save a comparatively trivial amount from its budget.’
John Bolch

A semi-success story from a dystopian nightmare
The last 12 months had been about survival, Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Network, told Catherine Baksi in the Law Society’s Gazette. Nine centres had closed their doors in that time, leaving 50 remaining. ‘We hope most others will survive and continue. Most are reasonably stable, but there are one or two that are on a knife-edge,’ Bishop said.

The feature focussed on post-LASPO innovation – such as Coventry Law Centre working with Coventry City Council’s Troubled Families team, Nottingham Law Centre’s link with local GP surgeries to provide housing benefit advice to those presenting with depression and Derby Law Centre’s work with category D offenders ‘helping them on the road to rehabilitation’.

‘One semi-success story to arise from what may otherwise seem a dystopian nightmare’ was the partial-resurrection of Birmingham Law Centre forced to shut up shop last year. Birmingham Community Law Centre opened last September as a part of Coventry Law Centre, providing advice on welfare benefits, debt, community care and public law.

No mad laws
Garden Court North Chambers is backing the No Mad Laws Campaign launched this week to highlight the ‘disastrous effect’ that the Coalition Government’s legal aid cuts will have upon gypsies and travellers – more here. Due to LASPO , gypsies and travellers on rented local authority sites are unable to get advice, apart from eviction and serious disrepair cases, and left unable to challenge eviction by local authorities (even where the local authority are acting in defiance of government guidance). You can sign the petition here

Solicitors at Ealing Law Centre have just won a key legal case on behalf of a young man who has been granted British Citizenship. He can now take up a place at a prestigious drama school.

The 18 year old, Danny, had lived in the UK since the age of three. He was not entitled to citizenship as his father was not a British citizen and his mother had returned to her country of birth and was no longer involved in his life.

‘Children and young people can be left in limbo with no right to go into further education or take work,’ explained solicitor Solange Valdez of the Law Centre’s Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens. ‘The Secretary of State has the discretion to register children as British citizens but had not included someone in Danny’s position. “We challenged the Secretary of State’s decision to the high court and we are delighted that Danny now has citizenship. It is the first time citizenship has been granted to someone in his position.’

‘This is a key decision which should benefit many more children in the same situation. We are seeing more and more young people in our monthly surgeries who urgently need to resolve their status in order to pursue their education.’
Solange Valdez


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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