JusticeWatch: Rats in the lunchbox…

LLW 4Weekly round-up: May 23

Rats in the lunchbox, mould in the mattress
‘I have never seen the level of poverty that we are seeing today,’ said Pamela Fitzpatrick. After some 30 years in social welfare law for the likes of the Child Poverty Action Group and Citizens Advice, Fitzpatrick set up the Harrow Law Centre four years ago.

She told Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for Open Democracy about the ease with which landlords could now evict tenants and how many tenants were living in horrendous accommodation ‘paying really high levels of rent and living in squalor’. ‘One five-year-old child brought in her lunchbox to show me that rats had eaten it. We are talking about pretty grim situations.’

Omonira-Oyekanmi also spoke Nathaniel Mathews, a senior solicitor for Hackney Community Law Centre, who described the exploitation of poorer tenants as routine.

‘We have got tenants in low paying jobs from abroad, all cleaners, in relatively cheap but completely unregulated accommodation. It is not uncommon for landlords one way or another to evict these people whether through the courts, or not through the courts, and often giving them no notice at all. You have got people who just don’t know their rights.’

A powerful (and long) article on an important subject.

There was alarming research from the housing charity Shelter (covered here in the Guardian) which reckoned that more than 4,000 households in England were ‘at risk of losing their home every week amid high housing costs and a shortage of affordable homes’.

‘People are hearing that the economy is recovering, but we’re seeing the reality that many families across the country are still battling to keep their heads above water and keep their homes,’ said chief executive Campbell Robb. ‘Just one thing such as a job loss or serious illness can tip any of us into a downward spiral that puts our home at risk.’

Getting advice early was ‘the best way to halt the spiral of rent or mortgage arrears and can mean the difference between losing a home and keeping it’, said Robb.

Meanwhile, law centre volunteer Erin Mee, in the Guardian Society, reported on the iniquities of the bedroom tax. She recalled visiting Dave who had multiple sclerosis and lived with partner Claire. When Mee first met the couple, they were living in the three-bedroom home where they had been there for over 25 years.

Anticipating the bedroom tax, they downsized to a two-bed – not easy as there was only one purpose-built disabled bungalow in town. His new bedroom had no space for Claire- owing to the hoisting equipment. So their housing benefit was cut because as a couple they were only entitled to one bedroom. ‘I see Claire resigning herself to this, she doesn’t want to fight,’ reflected Mee. ‘This is exactly what the government wants.’ However her case workers want to fight.’ Every appeal lost was ‘a learning curve’, she said. ‘Every appeal won sets a precedent for future cases. Every judgment is further clarification on the legislation.’

Don’t suffer in silence, was Mee’s advice. ‘Get down to your Citizen’s Advice Bureau, law centre or welfare benefits advice centre.’

A lucrative form of closed shop
Then there was Operation Cotton. The Guardian’s Michael White set the scene on the eve of the court of appeal’s ruling.

 ‘”Equality of arms” is an important principle at the bar, as well as a lucrative form of closed shop, which Chris Grayling is undermining with a 30% cut in the VHCC budget. Militant lawyers at the Lidl end of the trade have been staging RMT-style strikes against Grayling for months. Obviously, it is in the public interest to prosecute complex fraud cases, not just benefit scamsters. But Cameron QC’s grandee intervention made it personal: the cuts were instigated by his little brother, Dave.’

The following day, the decision to call to a halt the fraud trial was, as predicted, reversed.

Tweet of the week goes to the journalist Nick Cohen. Cohen wrote about the case HERE.

The establishment’s friend Lord Justice Leveson has bottled Cotton case. Still doesn’t mean that there are barristers to defend fraudsters

— Nick Cohen (@NickCohen4) May 21, 2014


Walk for Justice
Some 8,000 walkers took part in this year’s London Legal Walk on Monday in beautiful sunshine. The event which is run by the London Legal Support Trust raised between £500,000 and £550,000. Check out the photos HERE




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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