JusticeWatch: LASPO review ‘a bit like waiting for Godot’

Positive noises from Manchester
Tory MPs were expressing dissatisfaction with the LASPO cuts in Manchester, according to the Law Society’s Gazette. ‘The Gazette understands that lord chancellor David Lidington is sympathetic to the idea of making changes, particularly to the exceptional case funding system, although the government is clear there is unlikely to be extra money available overall,’ it said.

Solicitor general Robert Buckland, speaking at a LawWorks event, conceded there are ‘examples in the system where there are unfairnesses that need to be plugged’. ‘The criteria [for funding] has been quite restrictive and I don’t think that’s right,’ he said. ‘In terms of provision I do think there is a case for sensible investment in early advice. I don’t pretend pro bono is a substitute for legal aid – it is an adjunct. I do think, if it is the case there are gaps in the provision of early advice intervention, I think there is a case for that to be looked at very carefully.’

At a separate event, John Howell, a member of the justice select committee, also said he was ‘open to looking at how the legal aid figures should be tackled next and whether the rules have been too draconian – and whether there needs to be more flexibility.’

Out of ideas?
The Tories have run out of ideas of how to fix our broken justice system, argued shadow justice minister Richard Burgon on the Justice Gap. The lawyer was responding to David Lidington’s speech at the conference in Manchester. ‘Perhaps the most shocking part of the speech was the total failure of David Lidington to even mention legal aid, let alone outline any solutions to repair a justice sector that, in the words of Britain’s then most senior judge, is now ‘unaffordable to most’ following deep Conservative cuts,’ Burgon argued.

‘The introduction of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2012 left many unable to defend themselves in areas as fundamental as housing, employment, immigration and welfare benefits. Figures obtained by Labour last month highlight the devastating consequences of this reform, with the number of legal aid providers down by 20%. Behind that statistic lie hundreds of thousands of human tragedies as government policy targets the most vulnerable to pay for its failed austerity economics and, at the same time, removes the rights of people to defend themselves against these cuts. When people can’t afford to defend their rights, those rights are worth nothing more than the paper they are written on.’
Richard Burgon

Meanwhile the Gazette reported that justice minister Dominic Raab was defending the principle of court charges despite the Supreme Court ordering the government to scrap employment tribunal fees. ‘The issue is the balance between requiring and expecting the user of a public service to contribute some and having the rest borne by the taxpayer,’ he told a fringe event. ‘The dilemma has not gone away – let us not throw the whole principle away.’

The number of people seeking support in court because they had no lawyer was up 520% since 2011, reported Emily Dugan for BuzzFeed News. The journalist spent three days in Birmingham’s courts to find out how these people cope – you can read her report here.

Official data was ‘patchy’ but BuzzFeed reported the following:

  • The Personal Support Unit saw ‘a staggering 520% increase in people going to it for help since 2011’;
  • Six years ago the PSU had 200 volunteers helping people on just over 9,000 occasions. Last year there were more than 700 volunteers helping people on more than 56,000 occasions;
  • According to a previously unreported study by the University of Birmingham, almost two-thirds of 200 litigants in person surveyed in Birmingham did not have A-levels and a quarter had no formal qualifications at all; only 45% of people said they had understood what was said in court; and 22% did not have English as a first language.

‘Every year we help more people because there are more people to help, but also because we’ve been expanding the number of locations where we offer help,’ said Nick Gallagher, chief executive of the PSU. ‘In the last month a number of our units have seen more people than ever before. Some of these are the most established ones. The particular concern is where one person has legal advice and the other doesn’t … I think we need to see a properly funded legal aid system. The legal aid system has never been properly comprehensive but there are clearly lots of people now who don’t have legal aid who need support and would previously have done.’

The LAPG launched their legal aid manifesto today at their annual conference – as reported on LegalVoice here.

A special place in the Supreme Court
Baroness Hale of Richmond, sworn in this week as the president of the Supreme Court, welcomed Lady Justice Black who joined her as the court’s second female appointee since it was set up in 2009.

Hale said that she was determined that her new colleague would soon be joined by a succession of other female justices. As the Evening Standard pointed out, the most recent figures show only 28 per cent of court judges were female. But Yorkshire-born Lady Hale, who was educated at a state school, said she was ‘delighted… at long last to welcome another woman to the court’.

‘I think it was Madeleine Albright who said there is a special place in hell for first women who pull up the drawbridge after them, and I have been wanting to avoid that special place ever since I became a Law Lord in 2004. I just hope that it won’t take another 13 years before a third, fourth or fifth woman joins the court.’
Baroness Hale

The second blind person to be appointed to a judicial post in Britain has been criticised for ‘wholly failing to meet the standards that are demanded by the office of a judge‘, according to the Times Brief newsletter. It reported: ‘In an unprecedented ruling, a three-strong bench of senior judges found that Judge Amir Ali Majid, an immigration judge, had “very little idea of either his own (limited) powers or the content of the law that is in issue”.’ Their ruling came in appeals of 13 cases heard recently by Judge Majid.

Not really that great
The MoJ launched a new marketing campaign

Cue much sarcasm:


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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