JusticeWatch: Justice on the cheap

Second class citizens
Solicitors representing relatives of the 21 people killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings have claimed they are being ‘bounced into an agreement’ by the Government. The families had previously warned of a boycott of the inquest over the row about legal aid.

Belfast-based KRW Law has been acting free of charge for two years but have said they cannot continue to work pro bono when hearings begin on Monday. Julie Hambleton, who heads the Justice4the21 campaign group and lost her sister Maxine in the terrorist attacks (photo above), claimed the Government has treated the families ‘like second-class citizens’.

The families called for Hillsborough style funding but the Government said the families had to apply to the Legal Aid Agency. However, according to ITV, an issue has arisen ‘because the relatives’ lawyers are a Northern Ireland-based firm and the coroner’s court sits in a different legal jurisdiction – England and Wales’. The suggested solution has been for KRW to become the agent for Liverpool-based Broudie Jackson Canter which acted for some of the Hillsborough families. ‘But the Belfast-based solicitors have said neither law firm thinks that solution is feasible because of the sheer volume of work already invested in their clients,’ the Mail reported.

Christopher Stanley, from KRW, told BBC Radio WM, that his firm was exploring ‘kicking down the door’ by setting up an office in England.

In an interview over the weekend with the Guardian, Julie Hambleton accused the government of trying to ‘trying to do it on the cheap’. Why does she believe they are making it so difficult? She said that ‘they know their predecessors’ hands were dipped in blood. That they were aware that these bombings were going to happen. Our loved ones were cannon fodder. Imagine if people got to know that the government knew there were going to be terrorist attacks and didn’t step in to stop it… .’

Heading for breakdown
In an interview with The Times, a former lord chief justice, Lord Judge described the Lord Chancellor in the following terms: ‘She is a very inexperienced politician with no legal experience, who has been silent – and answered to Downing Street when she should have been independent.’ He accused her of causing a ‘constitutional breakdown’ and said she even have broken the law by failing to defend judges following that article 50 ruling.

Judge – who neatly described Truss’s begrudging defence as ‘a little too late and quite a lot too little’ – noted that the words she used were ‘almost exactly the same as the prime minister used a couple of hours later’. ‘That’s my explanation why it took her so long,’ he said

Noting that Margaret Thatcher was ‘famously snubbed’ by Oxford University which refused to offer her an honorary degree in protest against Government’s cuts, the Daily Mail asked had Liz Truss similarly been publicly rebuffed? Apparently, Truss was due to be made an honorary ‘Bencher’ of Lincoln’s Inn last Thursday, but the ceremony was called off.

Welcome to the cosy club
Meanwhile the Times’ brief newsletter was bemused as to why the present lord chief justice Lord Thomas was given such an easy ride by the House of Commons’ justice committee this week.

As Lord Thomas settled into his chair– see LegalVoice report here – ‘his mind must have been racing with anticipation as he prepared to face some sticky questions’. After all, as the Brief pointed out there were no shortage of difficult issues: press attacks on the judiciary, plunging morale and the court challenge over their own pensions. ‘In the end, a sedate and dull appearance passed without any of those pressing issues being addressed.’

Was the justice committee ‘in danger of becoming a cosy club’, it asked. According to the Brief, ‘apparently “it was agreed on both sides” that questions would not be asked on those difficult topics.’ Weird.

Meanwhile journalist Catherine Baksi met the committee’s chair for lunch – ‘tuna, chips and a bottle of white plonk’, if you’re interested. The reliably amiable Tory barrister expanded on his approach to holding the powers that be to account. ‘It’s not our job to be confrontational with Liz and her team — I like all of them personally. It’s our job to help them overcome the obstacles,’ he said.

Neill was even more gushing about her predecessor who ‘could have been a major, reforming Tory minister on social policy, like Peel or Disraeli’ an opportunity that was ‘thrown away because of the concept of sovereignty’ – that and a cack-handed attempt to stab fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson in the back.

Neill offered the following assessment of the present Lord Chancellor: ‘thoughtful, clever, though not as articulate as Michael, and wants to get it right’.

The barrister did let rip (relatively speaking) on the contentious matter of employment tribunal fees. ‘I’m not over-impressed with the MoJ on the fees stuff so far,’ he stormed.

Debt is a sickness of our society
‘Increasingly in general practice we are seeing patients with mental illness triggered or exacerbated by socio-economic difficulties,’ wrote Kent GP Dr Catherine Norwood. It’s an interesting read, especially in the context of the Low Commission’s work on integrating legal and welfare advice into the health system – see James Sandbach’s article for LegalVoice here.

 ‘We are not debt advisors, and nor should we be, but by taking patients’ financial difficulties and debt seriously, proactively offering help by completing the evidence form for no fee and signposting to free and confidential debt counselling charities, we are treating our patients holistically and in some cases saving lives. Debt really is a sickness of our society, which we can contribute to treating.’
Dr Catherine Norwood

Justice for all
Writing for the Guardian, Peter Herbert, who sits as a judge in employment and immigration tribunals, reflected on the findings of David Lammy’s interim inquiry into race and the criminal justice system.

‘We cannot expect to have a diverse judiciary and magistracy, and to recruit police officers, probation officers, prison officers and lawyers who look like us and are knowledgeable of our communities, if we are forced to operate in a system that is itself unwilling or unable to deliver justice equally to all. As Martin Luther King said, “It is not possible to be in favour of justice for some people and not to be in favour of justice for all people.”’

Herbert, chairman of the Society for Black lawyers, is currently suing the MoJ for racial discrimination.

Disney lawyers
Solicitors who ‘fleeced’ the Legal Aid Agency out of nearly £600,000 were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, reported the Law Society’s Gazette. Mohammed Ayub, managing partner of Bradford-based Chambers Solicitors and his brother Mohammed Riaz, who ‘likened himself to Walt Disney’, were convicted by a jury after a five-week trial at Sheffield Crown Court. They will be sentenced in the new year.

Prosecutors said the defendants formed a sham company called Legal Support Services to claim inflated disbursements from the LAA for immigration and asylum work awarded to Chambers. ‘Walt Disney was the principal as I was the principal,’ Riaz told the court. ‘Chambers were working on my behalf. They were working as agents for me.’

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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