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JusticeWatch: #legalaidmatters

Double standards
In an open letter to the attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC released on Twitter last night, Harriet Harman accused the government of putting pressure on the Solicitors Regulatory Authority to take action against the human rights law firm Leigh Day.

The former solicitor general quoted Michael Fallon, secretary of state for defence calling the Al-Sweady inquiry ‘a completely unacceptable attempt to abuse our legal system to falsely impugn our armed forces’. Harman argued that it was his attack that was ‘totally unacceptable’.

At this point it’s worth recalling Theresa May’s enthusiastic endorsement of her defence secretary at last year’s Conservative party conference – as reported by LegalVoce:

‘Our excellent defence secretary Michael Fallon proved not only that we will support them [British troops] with our heart and souls, not only will we remain committed to spending two per cent of our national income on defence, but we will never again in any future conflict let those activist left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave the men and women of our armed forces.’
Theresa May

Harriet Harman called upon Wright to advise cabinet colleagues that they should ‘support an independent and fearless legal profession; not be afraid to be held to account in the courts; and that they should never seek to put pressure on the SRA to take action calculated to deter lawyers taking claims against the government by seeking to drive those who do out of the legal profession’.

‘It is telling that while the government is quick to inveigh against solicitors who take action against them for breach of human rights they have been wholly silent and have respected the independence of the SRA in respect of any disciplinary action against solicitors who, as the Public Accounts Committee pointed out, were complicit in advising companies about highly dubious evasion of millions of pounds of tax.’
Harriet Harman

Ambulance chasing
Last weekend the Times revealed ran a frontpage story about two paralegals at Leigh Day who had been behind a poster offering to ‘kick-start’ insurance claims, contact embassies and draft letters for people affected by the Grenfell blaze.

Later in the week the Law Society’s Gazette reported that the pair had resigned. The posters did not name Leigh Day but did say that a third party ‘may charge for their services’. A spokesman for the firm said: ‘We are clear that neither of the individuals have supplied any names to the firm as potential clients and Leigh Day was not the “third party” referred to in the posters. Leigh Day supports many official external pro bono initiatives, and continues to support voluntary work in which many of our staff are involved.’

Earlier in the week, the Law Society signposted those affected by the fire to North Kensington Law Centre in response to concerns about ambulance-chasing. Chancery Lane pointed out that North Kensington Law Centre had been ‘serving some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in the area for nearly 50 years’ and was working with ‘volunteer lawyers to provide independent, impartial and free legal advice on housing, employment, immigration and asylum and welfare benefits’.

Mr Whitewash
Legal blogger the Secret Barrister, writing for the New Statesman this week, came to the defence of Sir Martin Moore-Bick. He complained of the ‘rapidly cultivated image’ of the retired judge and now chair of the Grenfell inquiry as an ‘establishment Mr Whitewash’. Since his appointment Sir Martin had been labelled as a ‘white, upper-middle class man who has never, ever visited a tower block’ and someone who did not ‘understand human beings’ by the Labour MPs David Lammy and Emma Dent-Coad respectively.

‘[What] we hear circulated on the airwaves by Sir Martin’s detractors are complaints born not of evidence, but of half-truth and prejudice. Nothing that has been said amounts to a sustainable, reasoned critique. Criticism for this should be aimed not at the victims and families, but at those whose public duty is to represent, inform, counsel and champion their interests. It is those representatives, exploiting tragedy and encouraging misnomer in service of their own agendas, who should be asking whether they are truly suited to their role.’
Secret Barrister

Michael Mansfield QC joined the fray this week in his interview with Catherine Baksi for LV.  The QC highlighted a number of mistakes most notably Moore-Bick’s statement that his inquiry was not going to answer all the questions the survivors might have. ‘I think it’s difficult now for him. He doesn’t appear to have to repaired bridges or communicated the kind of skills that are necessary for this inquiry,’ Mansfield said. ‘I think he should quietly stand down.’

Get Rex
Rex Makin was ‘brilliant at mounting an aggressive defence or claiming the maximum damages, but it came at a personal cost’, according to a Guardian obit. ‘I am loathed and despised,’ he apparently once said. Nonetheless, Makin became the ‘go to’ solicitor on Merseyside. ‘For anyone accused of a criminal offence or injured in an accident, the immediate thought was to “get Rex”,’ it continued.

Apparently the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein asked Makin to draw up ‘an unbreakable contract’ with this group. Makin said there was no such thing – and so Epstein went elsewhere presumably to find a more obliging solicitor.

Good luck
Natalia Rymaszewska, formerly chief exec of London Legal Support Trust and LV director, has just joined the RightsInfo team as interim chief executive, covering Julia Kirby-Smith for 6 months of maternity leave. Best of luck.

#legalaidmatters
A new issue of Proof magazine (Life in the Justice Gap: legal aid matters) co-produced by the Justice Alliance and the Justice Gap is out next week. The launch is at the House of Commons on Tuesday, July 18 – join us.

‘Now more than four years after the implementation of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, it seems a good time to survey the scene. The impact of the 2013 legal aid cuts has been even more devastating than first feared. Whilst the government celebrated Magna Carta, LASPO became the charter for the bullying employer, the Rachman landlord and violent partner, who could act knowing their victim was denied access to legal help.The human consequences of those cuts is the subject of this issue of Proof magazine.’
Matt Foot, Rhona Friedman and Jon Robins

 

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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