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JusticeWatch: Uncork the Gauke

Uncork the Gauke
The ancient post of lord chancellor was ‘one of the hottest in government judging by its speed of turnover’, wrote Frances Gibb and Richard Ford in the Times. David Gauke has become the sixth holder in as many years, the first lawyer since Ken Clarke and first solicitor in the job. ‘Reaction to the appointment was largely positive – not least because Gauke arrives after four non-lawyers in the post,’ they said.

Penelope Gibbs, the director of Transform Justice, said that Gauke ‘needs to be brave in tackling the rising prison population. The prisons are drug-infested, violent and unsafe for staff and prisoners.’ Richard Burgon, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said that the Tories’ ‘revolving door approach’ showed ‘the absolute disdain with which the Tories are treating our justice system’.

Gauke, the MP for Hertfordshire South West and a commercial lawyer, is ‘little known beyond Westminster where he is seen as a steady pair of hands who can troubleshoot. “Uncork the Gauke,” Treasury colleagues would cry as he was sent out to face the flak.’  Apparently, as work and pensions secretary he came under fire after saying that it was ‘morally wrong’ to pay your plumber in cash because Revenue & Customs lost out and other people had to pay more tax.

Trouble north of the border
Scotland’s finely balanced criminal legal aid system was ‘on the brink of meltdown’ after solicitors pulled out of the police station duty rota, as reported in The Herald.

‘With over 250 more considering a similar move, the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), which runs the police station duty scheme, is facing the prospect of having to increase its own team of lawyers to cover the work,’ it said.

‘This is a situation that has been coming for a long time but it’s finally reached breaking point,’ commented Robert More, a criminal defence lawyer who also serves as vice-president of Edinburgh Bar Association. ‘This is the issue that is going to tip it over the edge.’

Apparently, the issue stems from new rules coming in later this month that will give everyone being questioned in a police station the right to legal advice regardless of the severity of the offence. Ian Moir, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s criminal legal aid committee, said that while this is ‘an excellent development’ that upholds citizens’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, it would lead to significantly increased workloads for those participating in the duty scheme.

Early advice dilemma
In recent months there have been calls for the government to look at restoring early advice for civil legal problems – for example, the Law Society in November published research which demonstrated the link between early advice and resolving a problem sooner. ‘The Legal Action Group welcomes the increased pressure on the government regarding this issue, but we are warning that action needs to be taken urgently, as civil legal aid is becoming a narrow collection of specialisms dominated by child protection, with shrinking provision for the type of early advice services needed by the general public,’ wrote the group’s director Steve Hynes for the New Law Journal.

‘No-one would disagree that the protection of children should remain a public policy priority, but if the government is to respond to the clamor for early advice services, action needs to be taken to arrest the decline in the availability of legal aid for housing, benefits and other areas of law in which people commonly need assistance. The review of LASPO announced in October last year should be used as an opportunity to develop a vision for early advice services. All that is needed is some political will from ministers to do so.’
Steve Hynes, LAG

Legal aid probe
Three judges were among 12 lawyers being ‘probed over suspected bogus legal aid claims for more than £15million. ’, reported The Sun.

According to the red top, the CPS had spent two years reviewing the ‘large and complex investigation’ and was considering charges.

‘Three of the suspects questioned under caution sit as part-time judges in the South East of England. The other nine are solicitors and barristers working for legal firms in London and the Home Counties. Cops have probed ten cases from 2011 and 2012 with total claims of more than £15million, of which around ten per cent was paid.’
The Sun

Defendants who were privately represented were acquitted or had charges dropped, enabling costs to be claimed against the taxpayer. Apparently, lawyers are ‘suspected of switching clients’ representation without them knowing so they were defended on exorbitant fees instead of lower flat rates’.

Save our home
Greater Manchester Law Centre is appealing for funds to remain at its current premises in a move that ‘highlights the fragility of the advice sector’, according to the Law Society’s Gazette. The Law Centre opened in a purpose-built building in Moss Side in 2016. The centre relies entirely on donations for funding. If the money does not come in, barrister John Nicholson, chair of the centre’s management committee, told the Gazette that ‘we won’t be able to pay for the space from which to give our advice services’.

The centre has sent out an email appeal headed ‘Save our home! 159 supporters needed for 159 Princess Road.’ The centre says that, for instance, 20 people donating £10 per month will maintain six interview rooms which enable clients to speak privately.

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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