At last – an attorney general who has mastered the video link
Is Jeremy Wright ‘the least distinguished attorney general for two centuries’, asked Matthew Scott. Almost all previous AGs had been ‘barristers of exceptional distinction’, Scott reflected. ‘Those who enjoy fantasy cricket could make a formidable team out of 20th century British Attorneys-General,’ he wrote – and, indeed, the barrister did pick his own dream team – see here. Wright’s predecessor, Dominic Grieve didn’t quite cut it (‘though he might have made the touring party as a promising youngster’).
There was no danger of Jeremy Wright of making the selection. As evidence for his case, Scott referred to Wright’s ‘proud boast’ on his chambers’ website – ‘Jeremy’s experience includes high-value frauds and cases involving a video link’- which suggested a practice ‘so risibly insubstantial’ for an Attorney-General that it ‘quite takes one’s breath away’.
In a self-deprecating aside, Scott conceded that it was easy to mock the ‘sort of puffery that barristers indulge in these days’.
‘Plodding hacks like Barristerblogger are expected to preen themselves and spin the facts to present practices consisting mainly of defending second-rate paedophiles, third-rate fraudsters and dull-as-ditchwater drug users as though we were actually legal superstars like George Carman. Few are taken in.’
If you want to read Jeremy Wright’s thoughts on legal aid, then you have to dig back quite a way – see this from 2006 here.
‘There is no doubt that there is room for reform in the system of payments to the Bar. I accept that the current system is ridiculous. Based on the amount of preparation I do on a Monday night for a Tuesday morning case as a member of the Bar, I could be paid £46.50 or £1,500, depending on factors completely outside my control.’
Jeremy Wright, 2006
More reshuffle-related news, there was a parting shot from Ken Clarke about his retirement and the departure of the Grieve presaging an exit from the European convention on human rights – see here.
’A slightly absurd debate takes place in this country. We are occasionally taken to the European court in Strasbourg but we win 98% of the cases because of our human rights record. We only lose 2% of cases and all these mad mullahs that the press love to vilify and blame for our terrorist problems – which is a somewhat uncomplicated way of analysing the situation – are thought to win in Strasbourg. Well, we have won all the cases in Strasbourg.’
Grayling’s Germany versus Brazil moment
And now for some legal aid good news (and when was the last time you heard that). The Administrative Court declared that the proposed residence test for civil legal aid was ‘discriminatory’ and ‘unlawful’. The ruling was ‘Chris Grayling’s Germany versus Brazil moment – he fought hard and lost decisively. Though Brazil actually managed to score once, whereas he couldn’t even manage that’, reckoned Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association.
There was a certain poetic justice in the ruling, reflected Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group. He reckoned that the government had been ‘hoist by their own petard’. ‘The particular petard in question, being the stated underlying aim of the reforms of legal aid in the LASPO Act, which was to target legal aid in the future to those most in need,’ he argued here. ‘By seeking to introduce further criteria, that is excluding foreigners with otherwise meritorious cases from claiming civil legal aid, the court ruled that the government was going beyond its powers- acting ultra vires - a good old fashioned principle of English and Welsh law!’
Apparently, thousands of legal documents and residency forms had to be ditched at the last minute, reported Ian Dunt on politics.co.uk. ‘The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) withdrew training materials, draft casework guidance, contract amendment notices and vendor specifications relating to the residence test. Forms which featured the residence test have also been re-issued with the references withdrawn.’
The number of parents forced to represent themselves before the family courts jumped by 20,000 last year following the withdrawal of legal aid for almost all family cases, according to The Independent. This meant that ‘for the first time more than half of parents – 58%- went into court without a lawyer fighting their case in 2013/14. Many were mothers from poor backgrounds’. Family courts dealt with 19,140 more unrepresented parents in 2013/14 compared to the previous year, according to data released by the Ministry of Justice following a freedom of information request by the divorce service Lawyer Supported Mediation – as reported on LegalVoice a few weeks ago here.
‘There have always been a significant number of people representing themselves in court – as happened in about half of all private family law cases the year before we introduced these changes – and we have improved the information available to help them,’ an MoJ spokesman told the Indy. ‘The court can instruct a person to pay for the other party where they are able to do so.’
One of Britain’s most dangerous prisoners has had his legally-aided claim for a security downgrade castigated by a senior judge as an ‘absurd’ waste of public money. Mr Justice Mostyn questioned why David Bieber’s multiple legal actions were being paid for by taxpayers while ‘desperate’ parents fighting to see their children were being denied government help.
Bieber murdered PC Ian Broadhurst shooting him at close range as he pleaded for his life. It was reported in The Times (here, but you have to pay) that the judge rejected Bieber’s ‘completely untenable’ challenge to his categorisation as a high-escape risk. Mostyn said that since going to prison, Bieber had made ‘numerous applications to the High Court about the conditions in which he is being held’. His crimes were ‘at the upper end of bestial’ and it was reasonable to suppose that he would try to escape, Mostyn added.
‘All of the claims he has made have been funded by legal aid. It is perhaps noteworthy that I have sat in this court, where I usually sit, with litigants in person before me — people who are desperate to see their children — from whom the government has withdrawn all legal aid.’
Mr Justice Mostyn
Over on our sister site www.thejusticegap.com, a powerful and thoughtful article about the impact of LASPO here. It is the first in a series of articles by Jack Simspon who focused on social welfare law and the legal aid cuts as part of a masters at Goldsmiths College University of London.
The article told the story of Sammy, born in Nigeria who arrived in the UK with his mum at the age of 11. ‘Despite suffering with some learning difficulties, he did well at school and was looking forward to his GCSEs. He hoped that with good grades he could go to college and pursue a career in filmmaking. Then, at the age of 16, Sammy was dealt a hammer blow,’ Simpson wrote.
His mother, the only family Sammy had in Britain, was arrested and deported leaving Sammy stranded in the UK. ‘With nowhere to go, the abandoned 16 year-old had to sleep rough for a few days, until he finally told one of his teachers about his situation,’ Simpson continued. Social services were alerted, Sammy was put into foster care and he bonded with his foster parents. Social services put in an application to the Home Office so he could stay in the country legally.’
But the Home Office said Sammy would have to leave the country on his 18th birthday – he had five weeks to appeal the decision. As a result of the LASPO cuts, he would have to carry out the appeal on his own.
‘Winning would mean staying in Britain, the country Sammy now called home; losing would mean being sent back to Nigeria. With no traceable family, Sammy would have to go back to the country of his birth and try to forge a new life alone.’
Luckily for Sammy, Manchester-based barrister Lucy Mair, decided to take up his appeal case on a pro-bono basis. ‘This idea that that this man who since he was 16 has been under the care of social services would be going to a tribunal facing a representative of the government and presenting his case to an immigration judge all on his own is really sad to me,’ said Mair, ‘I think we have a duty of care to young and vulnerable people like that.’
Legal Aid Bulletin, July 17 2014
Legal aid residence test held ‘discriminatory and unlawful’:
The Administrative Court declared that the proposed residence test for civil legal aid was discriminatory and unlawful, following a successful judicial review challenge against the Secretary of State for Justice. Oliver Carter reports
Bar Council calls for post-LASPO review:
Eight out of 10 respondents to a Bar Council survey to assess the impact of LASPO reported an increase in delays in the family courts, and more than six out of ten (64%) in the civil courts. A total of 716 people responded to the online survey – 90% of respondents were barristers - which found a significant increase in the number of litigants-in-person: almost nine out of 10 respondents who worked in the family courts (88%) and seven out of 10 respondents from civil courts had seen an increase in self-representation
The true figure of cuts for Criminal Solicitors is 27.25%:
reckons Stephen Halloran
Internship Opportunity with LegalVoice
LegalVoice (www.legalvoice.org.uk) is an online magazine about ‘access to justice’. It is aimed at legal aid law firms, the not-for-profit sector and all organisations providing publicly-funded legal advice in the UK. It was launched two years ago - May 2012 - in the midst of the biggest shake-up of legal aid since a system of publicly-funded law was set up as a key part of the welfare state under the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949.
The aims for LegalVoice are to:
- disseminate all the information practitioners need to know about legal aid
- keep legal aid professionals abreast of the changes in the sector• deliver insightful commentary and expert analysis; and
- provide a forum for legal aid professional to exchange ideas.
LegalVoice is a not-for-profit venture. Its start-up costs costs were met by City law firms and other supporters. The sited is edited by Jon Robins, a journalist who has written for the national and specialist legal press for over 15 years.
This is an exciting opportunity for someone with a sharp interest in the law - especially, legal aid - and has excellent writing skills. If you have an interest in journalism, all the better.
The position is for an editorial assistant. You will report to Jon. You can work from the National Pro Bono Centre in Chancery Lane, London. It's not essential (and Jon is based in Brighton). Whilst it is an unpaid voluntary role, reasonable travel expenses within London will be provided.
The role will include assisting with:
- News reporting;
- Writing newsletter;
- General editorial support (for example, editing and commissioning);
- Assisting with business development and sustainability; and
- Administration and other tasks and projects as reasonably requested.
- Strong writing skills;
- Reasonable understanding of law, especially as it relates to the legal aid sector;
- Ideally, some journalism experience.
One or two half or full days a week for six months, to start as soon as possible.
To apply please send your CV and a covering email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Daedline July 23.
If you haven't done so already, please sign and share the Justice Alliance's fresh petition to the government to save legal aid and protect access to justice for all. The petition has reached over 18,000 signatures, but 100,000 are required for the legal aid cuts to be debated in the House of Commons.