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JusticeWatch: The kindness of strangers

The kindness of strangers (but  not the LAA)
It was ‘shocking enough’ that access to justice was becoming increasingly dependent on ‘the kindness of strangers – aka crowdfunding’, noted Private Eye this week; but it was ‘even more alarming’ that the Legal Aid Agency was citing such public generosity as an excuse to withhold legal aid.

The Eye quoted a letter sent by the LAA to a mother of one of the victims of the 1974 pub bombings in Birmingham. Rejecting an application for funding, the official wrote: ‘I note also that the matter has been to date funded by way of crowdfunding. Given the success of the previous campaign I’m confident that the new crowdfunding drive could provide an alternative means of funding the appeal.’

Windrush claims
Lawyers have begun preparing group compensation claims on behalf of members of the Windrush generation, according to the Guardian. ‘The threat of legal action comes as the Home Office develops an official redress scheme that it hopes will be seen as sufficiently generous to prevent cases coming to court,’ reported Owen Bowcott.

Leigh Day is already working on compensation. ‘We have one case where someone who had been on holiday in Jamaica was detained on his return at the airport and deported,’ said solicitor Jamie Beagent. ‘In another case, someone was escorted from their workplace by immigration officers. Most of them were born in the Caribbean, but a couple are Canadians who came here in the 1960s before the 1971 Immigration Act.’

Whilst we welcome the news that the government intends to set up a compensation scheme for these British citizens, we know very little more. We are also sceptical that such a scheme will adequately recompense our clients for what they have been through and what they have lost, and seems to be a failed crisis-management ploy. Whilst Amber Rudd may have resigned, it was the current prime minister who made this policy real for many thousands of British citizens.
Jamie Beagent

The Justice Gap added an uplifting postscript to Fiona Bawdon’s story about her 2014 research into the legal situation of the Windrush Generation – or the ‘Surprised Brits’ as she called them.

One of the positive consequences of the Windrush scandal was hearing from a number of the people she had interviewed four years ago – including Lasith. When they last met he had just been given a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer and a life expectancy of 18 months. But, Bawdon wrote, four years on and he was doing well. ‘He credits his recovery to being put on a trial drug, which had, in his words, a ‘miraculous’ effect,’ she wrote. ‘He has been “completely shocked and overwhelmed” by all the Windrush coverage. Thanks to his lawyer, Islington Law Centre’s Roopa Tanna, Lasith has indefinite leave to remain, and is hoping to apply for British citizenship.’

Not quite a crisis but…
Judges were ‘struggling with a rising tide of horrific sex and child abuse cases’ while they ‘increasingly face slurs and insults online’, according to the new lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon in an interview with Frances Gibb of The Times. Together with ‘a rising administrative workload and dilapidated courts’, no wonder judges were ‘turning their backs on the job of judging,’ Gibb said. ‘It is the primary concern of the new lord chief justice,’ she continued. ‘…Lord Burnett of Maldon warned that the problem with recruiting judges is threatening the ability of courts to discharge their work.’ The most senior judge in England and Wales apparently ‘dislikes the word crisis’ but the shortage of judges threatened to ‘undermine the judiciary’s global reputation and reduce London’s standing as the pre-eminent centre for international dispute resolution’.

Not just the ‘awkward squad’
Penelope Gibbs from the charity Transform Justice wrote about previously undisclosed research by the MoJ on unrepresented defendants in the Crown court (see the Justice Gap here). Apparently, Gibbs ‘chased and chased’ for the report and ended up putting in a Freedom of Information request and then had to appeal that refusal before the ministry was forced into publishing.

‘Two years later we have six pages,’ she wrote. Apparently, the report observes that not all self represented defendants were ‘members of “the awkward squad”’.  There was ‘a consensus’ from interviewees that unrepresented defendants slow the court process down at every stage. ‘This has implications for funding of legal aid,’ she continued. ‘There are strong hints from the report writers that they think that it is not cost effective to deny legal aid to those who cannot afford private fees/contributions – hence the suggestion that there should be a Crown Court duty solicitor scheme and/or judicial discretion to grant representation where appropriate.’

In the Law Society’s Gazette, John Hyde looked at plans to cut court staff numbers from 16,500 to 10,000.

Let’s be clear: the system as it stands cannot cope with fewer people. It barely manages with the people it has. Cutting this number of staff means either making the system worse or fundamentally changing how we administer justice in this country. Anyone trying to argue differently is either blind to the consequences or is simply not telling the truth.
John Hyde

Employment Tribunal fees
The government has ‘backtracked’ on its decision not to contact claimants due a refund after paying now-outlawed employment tribunal fees, the Law Society’s Gazette reported.

In a letter to the House of Commons Justice Committee, justice secretary David Gauke confirmed the refund scheme had been making ‘reasonable progress’ but that ‘further action was necessary’. ‘We are therefore writing over the next few months to everyone who paid an ET fee, but who has not yet applied for a refund, to raise awareness of the existence of the scheme, and providing details on how to apply,’ Gauke wrote. A first batch of 2,000 letters was issued on 9 April.

 

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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