JusticeWatch: Getting away with it

‘Clinical and legalistic’
Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s opening statement in the Grenfell Inquiry and ‘its predominantly legalistic tone failed to reassure survivors, reported Owen Bowcott in the Guardian. Apparently, his 45-minute speech ‘even detailed the font size to be used in written “skeleton” arguments’.

Apparently the retired high court judge had said before that he would not take any questions however that didn’t stop Michael Mansfield QC trying to ‘make a quick request on behalf of survivors’. ‘The former appeal court judge ignored the question and left the stage amid shouts of “hello” and “rubbish” from residents who wanted him to talk to them,’ Bowcott reported. Emma Dent Coad, the Labour MP for Kensington, described the session as a ‘cold and clinical process’.

Meanwhile The Times’ daily law newsletter The Brief picked up on our story about the decision by a High Court judge to reject an application for a JR of the Grenfell fire inquiry panel amid allegations that it did not reflect ethnic and social diversity. Mr Justice Jay described the application as ‘peremptory and high-handed’ – you can read Catherine Baksi’s story here.

‘Massive’ MoD bill in Snatch Land Rover litigation
The UK government spent more than £750,000 on lawyers’ fees trying to deny responsibility for the deaths of soldiers killed in lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers.

The massive bill was run up on behalf of the MoD at a time when legal aid to claimants has suffered deep cuts,’ the Guardian noted. ‘The department was ultimately unsuccessful in supporting it did not have a duty of care to those killed using the vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The revelation will reinforce accusations that ministers are prepared to exploit taxpayers’ funds to obtain a legal advantage in court while claimants are often left to rely on lawyers working pro bono.’

The figures were obtained through a freedom of information request to the government’s legal department by a campaigner, Omran Belhadi. It showed that total legal costs were £765,731 – £321,354 was for in-house lawyers and £444,376 for ‘external disbursements’ – mainly barristers fees.

Getting away with it
Convicted criminals owed the Treasury nearly £2 billion with less than a tenth of that amount expected to be recovered, according to The Brief. ‘Outstanding debt from confiscation orders, a key route for stripping offenders of the proceeds of crime, stood at slightly more £1.8 billion at the end of March. However, it is estimated that £128 million, or about 7 per cent, of the total will ultimately be recouped.’

‘This is an appalling failure by the authorities to recover criminal assets,’ commented Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP and chairwoman of the Commons home affairs committee. ‘Courts are ordering the seizure of assets, but too often criminals are getting away with it. We need to know what action is being taken to turn this around.’

A rare success story
‘We are told our criminal justice system is the fairest in the world, with highly trained, dedicated professionals involved at every stage,’ began Binna Kandola in the Guardian, a member of the advisory panel for the Lammy review into race and the criminal justice system. The review’s ‘damning conclusion’ laid ‘this claim of fairness to rest‘.

That said, the jury system was ‘a notable success story’. ‘In an analysis of nearly 400,000 cases, the review found that juries were consistent in their decision-making, irrespective of the ethnicity of the defendant,’ Kandola reported.

‘While juries appear able to keep race out of their decision-making, the sentencing by judges of those found guilty told a different story. BAME offenders were significantly more likely to receive a custodial sentence than white offenders for comparable crimes.’
Binna Kandola

Sorry, what?
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg told a caller to a radio phone on LBC that the rapid increase in food banks showed a ‘rather uplifting’ picture of ‘a good, compassionate country’. The Guardian reported that there were at last 2,000 food banks in the UK compared to ‘just a handful’ in 2010.

‘I don’t think the state can do everything,’ Rees-Mogg said. ‘It tries to provide a base of welfare that should allow people to make ends meet during the course of the week, but on some occasions that will not work. And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are.’

The North East Somerset MP was recently named the grassroots’ favorite to succeed Theresa May. Only last week he talked about his opposition to same-sex marriage and that he was against all abortion.

Justice Committee
The membership of the House of Commons’ Justice Committee has been agreed. It will be chaired by again Bob Neill. Full details here. According to John Hyde of the Law Society’s Gazette only half turned up for the first session with the Lord Chief Justice – see here.

Further court closures were ‘almost certain’ as the justice system moved towards a digitised future, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. Giving evidence today before the committee today, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said the closures were ‘politically controversial but may be necessary to best deploy resources’.

‘Inevitably there are certain areas I suspect where there will be the need for further court closures,’ said Thomas. ‘In the end it is a question of how radical are we prepared to be in providing a much better service or do we spend the money on maintaining buildings which are under-utilised?’

Tweet of the week

Stories of injustice
Ahead of the publication of the report of Lord Bach’s Access to Justice Commission later this month, vice chair Sir Henry is republishing a paper called Stories of Injustice. ‘These should be compulsory reading for those who wish to understand the setting in which the Commission’s report has been compiled,’ he says. You can read it 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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