JusticeWatch: A compelling case for proper representation

A compelling case for proper representation
The families of those killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings should have properly funded legal representation at the new inquests according to the coroner, reported The Times. Judge Peter Thornton, QC, who will conduct the hearings, said there was ‘a compelling case for proper legal representation’.

Speaking at a pre-inquest hearing, the coroner said that he wanted the funding to be settled by early next year. ‘I support the applications of those families who wish to participate fully in these inquests by way of legal representation,’ the coroner said.

According to the Birmingham Mail, Thornton stressed ‘he had neither power nor authority to order funding be put in place’. But he added: ‘I do wish to say I support the applications of those families who wish to participate fully in these inquests by way of legal representation.’

‘The events of November 21 1974 brought about the tragic deaths of 21 people,’ Thornton said. ‘These were calamitous events and require full and fair investigation, at least as far as the inquest procedures may permit under law.’

The coroner said he supported such funding because of the importance of ‘the need for family participation’, the ‘gravity’ of the bombings, the scale of the atrocity and the ‘complexity’ of the inquests.

Spreading the blame
The fall out from the Hillsborough inquest – where the families had properly funded representation – continued.  South Yorkshire Police had been trying to ‘spread the blame’ during the inquests into the deaths of 96 football fans, according to a review by Hugh Tomlinson, QC – as reported in the Daily Mail.

Relatives of the deceased had complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission that its former chief constable, David Crompton had instructed their lawyers to ‘pour blame on to Liverpool fans in an effort to deflect blame from the force’.

The IPCC asked the QC to review its decision not to investigate Crompton. ‘I would say that the material relied on by the complainants does suggest that the SYP were indeed trying to “spread the blame”.’ Tomlinson also said it was ‘regrettable’ that the force refused to waive the privilege meaning that instructions given to lawyers by clients were confidential.

You can read Matthew Scott on Hillsborough and the conduct of the SYP’s lawyers on LegalVoice here.

Missing an opportunity
The Law Society’s president ‘confronted regulators’ – as the Law Society’s Gazette put it – over their refusal to ‘speak out’ about the impact of the legal aid cuts.

Robert Bourns said the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Legal Services Board were ‘missing an opportunity’ by ‘narrowly interpreting their remit to encompass only how market forces might best mitigate’ the impact of cuts.

Sir Michael Pitt, chair of the LSB, said that their policy was that ‘we do not comment directly on government decisions’. Jane Malcolm, the SRA’s executive director said that legal aid was ‘a matter of public policy. As a regulator we can try and address [some of that] unmet need. It is clearly a real difficulty.’

Apparently, this ‘did not satisfy Bourns’ because – the Gazette said – the LSB and SRA both shared ‘regulatory objectives enshrined in the Legal Services Act to protect and promote the public interest, and to promote access to justice’.

‘I think when you are charged with promoting access to justice, to ignore the likely impact of certain changes in public policy and to say that you are not in a position to comment and can only comment on the way in which you might resolve problems by exercising market forces – the other side of the equation – then you are missing an opportunity.’
Robert Bourns, Law Society president

Meanwhile the Chancery Lane continued to highlight the peril of paid McKenzie friends. At the lord chief justice’s annual press conference, the Gazette asked Lord Thomas for his view on the menace. Apparently, he was ‘dubious about their role in the court process’. ‘He said there was no objection to unpaid McKenzie friends, providing their role was defined, but raised questions over self-styled professionals, particularly in crime and immigration law where clients are vulnerable and will readily accept any help they can get,’ reported John Hyde.

‘I have seen them, who give legal advice that is simply wrong and you are preying on vulnerable people and that is why I am very, very cautious about payment to non-lawyers who try and assist vulnerable people. There is a real risk of exploitation or of giving advice the person wants to hear, not advice that they do not want to hear.’
Lord Thomas

Tweet of the week

Building a consensus
The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott reported on the Bach Commission’s interim and led with its idea of ‘an independent inspectorate’ to restore minimum standards of access to justice and establish equality within the courts.

As Bowcott noted while ‘not formally adopted as Labour policy, the report, overseen by the former justice minister Lord Bach, was commissioned by Jeremy Corbyn and the previous shadow justice secretary, Lord Falconer’.

‘Aimed at developing future policy for the Labour party, the authors hope to build a broad consensus for improving access to the courts. The report quotes the current lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, as saying: “Our justice system has become unaffordable to most.”’
Owen Bowcott

Richard Burgon, shadow secretary of state for justice and shadow lord Chancellor, claimed to be ‘particularly excited by the idea of enshrining in law a minimum standard for access to justice’. ‘A basic threshold for access to justice has the potential to be a historic advance in our law which could improve the lives of thousands,’ the former union lawyer noted.

The Bach Commission is raising funds through the Crowd Justice site to continue it works. You can support it here.

Technical problems
Meanwhile the MoJ’s not quite award winning new digital billing system (see last week’s JusticeWatch) continues to be beset by problems:

Shelter’s 50th
The Housing charity Shelter this week marked its 50th. More than 250,000 people in England were homeless or lacked a permanent place to live, wrote Patrick Butler in the Guardian. London was ‘the centre of homelessness’ with the capital’s boroughs ‘occupying 18 of the top 20 positions in Shelter’s list of the 50 places where people are most at risk of finding themselves without a home’.

‘Shelter’s founding shone a light on hidden homelessness in the 60s’ slums,’ commented Shelter’s chief executive, Campbell Robb. ‘But while those troubled times have faded into memory, 50 years on, a modern-day housing crisis is tightening its grip on our country.’


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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