Not in it for the money
‘I am unashamedly one of those annoying people who loves their job,’ began Mandy Groves of Ealing Law Centre in a blog for LawCareers.Net.offering ‘five reasons why you should consider social welfare law’. ‘It’s so interesting,’ she continued. ‘The people, the courts, the range of areas – when people come to you with clustered problems that require some unravelling before you can solve their legal issue, it is satisfying to help them take steps to work things through.’
She listed as one of the challenges of being a legal aid lawyer: ‘It is extremely hard taking instruction from a client sobbing in front of you about the threat of losing their home… .’
‘I didn’t go into legal aid for the money, I would be misguided if I did, however I am able go home every day knowing that I’ve done my bit to make the world slightly better for someone. Most of the time, we all have down days of course.’
Mandy Groves, Ealing Law Centre
The government has published its response to a report on the impact of the LASPO cuts by the joint committee on human rights – as reported in the Law Society’s Gazette.
The committee’s’ Enforcing Human Rights report found that the impact of LASPO on access to civil legal aid had been ‘dramatic’, the challenges facing the profession ‘severe’ and called upon the government to widen provisions for financial eligibility.
The MoJ said that means testing was a ‘vital mechanism’ to protect legal aid for those who need it most while ensuring those who are able to contribute do: ‘The post-implementation review will be making an assessment of the impact of applying the capital eligibility test to all legal aid applicants,’ the department said. ‘It is important that we do not prejudice the outcome by speculating on possible changes at this point.’
The ministry said that the review would be assessing ‘the extent to which the introduction of the exceptional case funding system has achieved its implementation objectives’. The MoJ said the LAA frequently reviews market capacity and ‘moves quickly’ to address gaps in provision. ‘However, the ministry fails to mention the debacle that affected hundreds of providers who were without new contracts hours before they were due to begin,’ the Gazette noted.
No silver bullet
Roger Smith interviewed Terry Stokes of rightsnet in the first of a series of interviews with people from the world of social welfare law and technology. Stokes is chief exec of Lasa which runs Rightsnet, ‘a digital community of thousands of welfare rights advisers’.
Stokes explained how he became a welfare rights worker on a project to delivery community information on geographically isolated housing estates in his home town of Wigan. ‘I ended up in a council flat with an open door to all comers,’ he said. ‘I was basically given a copy of the CPAG handbook and told to get on with it.’
Stokes described ‘a breakdown in the legal services eco-system’. The legal aid cuts were ‘severely reducing cases’, people were not getting the assistance of early intervention, and the the court modernisation programme was not helping. Technology could help, he said.
‘There has to be a solid foundation of face to face or personal advice. Technology – and the next thing will be chatbots – has a role to play but there has to be a solid base of personal delivery. Users sometimes want – and need – to talk to people. Technology will not solve the lack of personal contact. Which is not at all to say that technology cannot make us more efficient. Absolutely it can but technology will give us no ‘killer app’ or silver bullet.’
You can read on Roger Smith blog on law and access to justice here.
More fallout from the contracts debacle as reported last week. On Monday, Yasmin Aslam, director of Manchester firm AGI Criminal Solicitors, told the Gazette that she had still not received or signed the mental health, immigration and public law contracts her firm has bid for. Brent Community Law Centre was also still waiting to hear about its immigration, family and housing contracts.
In preparation for the new contracts, Aslam recruited an immigration supervisor who started this week. ‘I have instructed my staff to still see clients… and we will cross the bridge in terms of funding and remuneration at a later date,’ she said. ‘It might mean having to do the work on a pro bono basis. I’m hoping the LAA might agree at a later date to allow us to claim for that work. But I do not want to say to a client who’s calling from hospital “I want a tribunal” and have to turn that client away.’
‘We are still seeing people,’ Brent Community Law Centre, director Stuart Duffin told the Gazette. ‘We are still giving advice, information and guidance, but we cannot take on any new cases.’
Meanwhile Labour MP and former Brent Law Centre worker Harriet Harman ‘came to the defence of the profession’ at the latest meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid (also in the Gazette).
Harman, chair of the joint committee on human rights, spoke about the decline in the number of non-asylum immigration claims handled by the government since 2009. ‘It’s not just about those individuals, it’s also about keeping the system honest. You need a certain amount of lawyers buzzing around in any ecosystem.’
‘There’s an argument that we should not have too many lawyers around, but actually you need a certain amount of lawyers in any sphere to keep the issue of legal probity there. We have got a depleted legal ecosystem which not only undermines the rights of individuals but also contributes to systemic dysfunction.’
Filling the gap
A new free legal service had been launched by Anglia Ruskin University ‘taking up the slack in the wake of disappearing of state-funded aid’, according to EssexLive.
It was reported that the new law clinic would begin by offering family law advice on a fortnightly basis and plans to ‘build on the success’ of a clinic the university’s Cambridge campus launched in May which had ‘already provided free legal advice to almost 200 clients, worth over £10,000’.
‘You used to be able to get legal aid for half an hour, basic advice on divorce, separation or child arrangements,’ Sarah Calder, director of the Anglia Ruskin Law Clinic said. ‘That has gone completely so we are filling that gap. This half an hour is giving people information on their rights and options such as how will they get to see their children. People just don’t know and it becomes very stressful. Because of that, people are muddling through and getting themselves into nasty situations over child arrangements because they just don’t know what they can do about it.’
Bullying at the Bar
The Criminal Bar Association chair Chris Henley QC in his Monday message warned chambers of ‘sexist bullying‘. He had been contacted by Rick Hoyle, chair of the Young Bar who was concerned that a number of female pupils had reported ‘unpleasant and undermining comments’ about their clothing over the summer. ‘Critical comments about taking a jacket off whilst working in chambers, or for not wearing heels can really knock confidence,’ Henley said. ‘It is sexist and close to bullying. Criminal chambers do not have HR departments, and those affected, concerned about their futures, do not always feel able to complain. It is no answer to say they should be more robust or get a sense of humour. Sexist bullies should not be the ones who curate any part of our professional environment.’
Tough act to follow
After 10 years, Carol Storer is stepping down as director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group in November. ‘Under Carol’s excellent directorship LAPG has made a huge contribution as a representative body, despite the difficult economic climate,’ LAPG says. ‘With skill, energy and dedication Carol has helped LAPG to support legal aid practitioners so that in turn members of the public are able to enforce their rights, thereby ensuring they have access to justice.’
If you are interested, the job ad is here.
Very best of luck!
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