JusticeWatch: LegalVoice to close

LegalVoice to close

We launched the site in May 2012 to help the legal aid and legal not-for-profit sector face the challenges of a post LASPO world.

David Gilmore and I set up LegalVoice with help from a number of people including Vicky Ling, Matt Howgate, Melanie O’Brien, Martha de la Rouche, and Natalia Rymaszewska. Over the years we have had support from The Legal Education Foundation, Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Clifford Chance and others.

Funding an online magazine aimed at the legal aid sector was always going to be a challenge – and so it has proved. At the end of 2018, our editorial budget was effectively halved and, as a result, we were forced to dramatically cut content. Since then we have tried to identify funders and explore different ways of working. We have now taken the decision to take the site offline.

We are grateful to the hundreds of busy legal aid practitioners for taking the time to write for the site and attend our conferences.

Thanks for your support.

Jon Robins, editor

Coronavirus and the threat to a fair trial
’In the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, decided that no new trial should start in the Crown Court unless the case is expected to be shorter than three days,’ began Ed Johnston, senior Lecturer in Law at Bristol Law School, University of West England for the Justice Gap.

‘This is a departure from the guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice which until, Tuesday recommended that any juror who is feeling ill should stay away from court,’ he continued. ‘However, with a large portion of the country shutting down and working from home, there has been growing pressure for action. Does this measure of restricting jury trials go far enough?’

‘With the daily spike in new cases of Covid-19, it is hard to imagine the courts being able to function for much longer, even if Crown Court trials will be shorter than three days. The alternatives to jury trial are video link (which would protect all concerned from infection) or having the judge sitting alone. The latter would have stark ramifications for fair trial rights and does not adequately address the health concerns currently faced by the country, as lawyers, court staff, defendants and judges would all still need to be in-person. The former is fraught with problems which not only impact the well-being of the defendant but also could suffer from technological difficulties.’
Ed Johnston

More than 30 organisations wrote an open letter to the Home Secretary calling on the government to suspend its ‘hostile environment’ policy to protect the vulnerable, and prioritise public health during the coronavirus outbreak – Klara Slater reported also for the Justice Gap.

The letter, signed by groups including Hackney Migrant Centre, Liberty, and Right to Remain, said that there was ‘significant evidence that both NHS charging and data-sharing between the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care stops migrants from accessing healthcare, even in the case where exemptions exist for infectious diseases’.

The Home Office has said anyone suffering from Covid-19 will be tested and treated free of charge, regardless of their immigration status, as it has been added to the list of ‘communicable diseases’.

However, the letter stated this response did not go far enough. It suggests that, even in light of this exemption, migrants remain deterred because the fear of data-sharing is so engrained, they lack information and they can still be charged for other tests and treatments under ‘no recourse to public funds’. The letter read ‘to be effective this must be accompanied by commitments to end data-sharing and a public information campaign designed to reassure people that accessing care is safe’.

‘The evidence could not be clearer – restricting any group’s access to healthcare is bad not only for their health, but for that of the wider public too. We are only as protected as the least protected among us. In the midst of this unprecedented global health crisis, the Government must not only allow, but proactively encourage migrants to seek the healthcare they need.’
Satbir Singh, chief executive of Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants 

Essential – or not?
Law centres were shifting advice operations to the phone to ensure access to justice continues as more new cases of Covid-19 are reported, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. ‘Right now, our greatest hurdle to continuing services is the lack of timely clarity from the Legal Aid Agency and HM Courts & Tribunals Service on adaptations,’ said Nimrod Ben-Cnaan of the Law Centres Network. ‘Covid-19 has been looming for some time. We should have been notified of their plans much earlier and in a more coordinated manner, rather than mostly troubleshooting at local contract manager level.’

The Gazette also reckoned there was ‘confusion as to the extent that lawyers working in the courts are among those given special provision’ as the government published a list of key workers. ‘The list states that, alongside health and social care workers and food distribution workers, those “essential to the running of the justice system” are also regarded as key workers. It is not clear whether this extends to all court staff, magistrates, judges, security staff, cleaners and lawyers representing clients in ongoing cases,’ it said. Some help was offered by HM Courts & Tribunals Service chief executive Susan Acland-Hood, who responded to a lawyer on Twitter who had said court users might feel bad for putting children into school and putting the system under more pressure. Acland-Hood replied: ‘If it helps – if you are required to attend court, then you are essential. No guilt.’

‘We note that those “essential to the running of the justice system” have been classed as essential workers by the Government,’ said the Young legal Aid Lawyers. ‘As such, HM court service, the Legal Aid Agency and other relevant Government departments must ensure that support and clear guidance is put in place. The LAA must urgently issue guidance in relation to offsite working, legal aid applications without face-to-face meetings and measures to ensure that business can be carried out effectively but safely.’

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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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