JusticeWatch: the invisible crisis of no representation

Human rights’ groundhog day
The Hillsborough families, Lockerbie relatives and domestic violence survivors were amongst 130 groups opposing plans to scrap the Human Rights Act this week. The Government confirmed its intention to replace the Act with a ‘British Bill of Rights’ in Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech

Hillsborough shows how vital the Human Rights Act is to ordinary people when all other avenues of justice fail. We mustn’t let politicians tear up those hard-won protections,’ said Kate Allen, Amnesty UK Director.

Finally, progress at last, opined the Daily Mail. ‘More than six years after David Cameron first promised the new law, Number Ten will pledge to introduce legislation in the next session of Parliament to end the rampant abuse of human rights,’ it reported.

Last year’s Queen’s speech featured a single sentence on human rights suggesting proposals would be introduced for a British bill of rights. ‘This year, the Queen’s speech included precisely the same commitment, using almost precisely the same language, as if it was groundhog day,’ noted Keir Starmer in the Guardian.

There was a reason for this, the Labour MP and former DPP argued. The proposals were ‘legally incoherent’.

‘The choice for the government is stark. Abandon the project, accept the Human Rights Act and move on. Or take the reckless step of drafting a bill of rights which would put the UK in breach of its international obligations, set victims’ rights back a generation and unpick the progress made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Everyone who cares about human rights should watch like a hawk.’
Keir Starmer

Law blogger David Allen Green spotted one difference. He tweeted:

Down the pan
In this time of austerity, the human rights group JUSTICE has come up with a brilliant idea: ‘a court in a box’. ‘Pop-up’ courts could take place in council buildings, libraries, community centres or even schools, they reckon. Earlier in the year Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd appeared to seriously contemplate the prospect of courts sitting in pubs – see here.

JUSTICE came up with the brilliant idea of ‘pop-up courts with easily transportable judicial stage sets’ as a reponse to ‘successive waves of court closures’ – as reported in the Guardian. ‘Through innovation, the justice system could be made more affordable and accessible to ordinary people, with appropriate and proportionate modes of dispute resolution available to all,’ the group argued.

They would be staffed by travelling judges. ‘A “court in a box” could feature key elements that could be readily transported and assembled on site,’ the report suggests.

Apparently, JUSTICE take their inspiration from the BBC’s travelling Question Time set; although they stress the court ‘set’ would be ‘less elaborate’. Maybe, judges can assemble their own traveling courts Ikea-style?

The group is also apparently suggesting judges ‘hot-desk’ to save on costs. Judges could have ‘modestly-sized, self-contained booths’ (presumably portable) for reading and research, the report says.

Finally JUSTICE is proposing our judges lose their private loos.

‘First it was their grandiose lodgings; then it was lunchtime dining facilities. Now judges risk a final indignity – the loss of their private loos and robing rooms,’ lamented the Times’ daily Brief newsletter covering the story. ‘While it is proper for judge to share private judicial bathrooms, we do not think there is justification for each judge having individual facilities,’ the report says.

Tough times, indeed.

Pannick attack
Meanwhile Mr Justice Peter Smith has agreed not to sit in any cases until an appeal involving allegations of  bias against barristers at Blackstone Chambers is over – reported the Law Society Gazette.

The high court judge wrote an extraordinary letter to the chambers following a Times article by Lord Pannick QC. you can read it in full on Legal Cheek (here).

‘I am extremely disappointed… because I have strongly supported your Chambers over the years especially in Silk Applications,’ he wrote. ‘Your own application was supported by me and was strongly supported by me to overcome doubts expressed by brother Judges concerning you. I have supported other people. It is obvious that Blackstone takes but does not give… . I will no longer support your Chambers please make that clear to members of your Chambers. I do not wish to be associated with Chambers that have people like Pannick in it.’
Mr Justice Peter Smith

Obviously, this sort of thing would never have happened in the old days of secret soundings.

A woman whose daughter died while playing in an east London park told BBC News that it was ‘disgraceful’ she has been denied legal aid for the inquest. Alexia Walenkaki was playing on a rope swing in Mile End Park when a tree trunk holding the swing fell on her. Her mother Vida Kwotuah said the ‘complex’ case was ‘unmanageable without representation’.

She had been told she had been denied public funding because her case was ‘not considered to be in the public interest’.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice trotted out the standard line that the process was ‘designed so people without legal knowledge can easily participate and understand what is happening… etc etc’.

Tweet of the week

Digital justice
Roger Smith published his latest paper on access to justice and technology (Digital Delivery of Legal Services to People on Low Incomeshere.

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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