Mayor’s new housing chief James Murray used to talk about Housing Needs in Islington (in a private box at Lords)

Howzat!! Islington Cllr James Murray, newly appointed deputy Mayor for Housing, was wined and dined in a private box at Lords in 2013 by a housing company according to this article in Islington Gazette.
Caught out? Or bowled a googlie in an unfair presentation of the facts?
The story had legs because Cllr Murray, not shy of attacking opponents as “arrogant and greedy”, was himself at the time the Labour lead Cllr for housing in Islington, a portfolio for which he was handsomely rewarded by the Council Tax Payer in the form of the high allowance that he and colleagues voted for. In short, he could have paid his own way.

There is no doubt that Murray is dedicated to campaigning for more affordable housing, saying recently “Islington is in desperate need of family homes for social rent, particularly while low income families bear the brunt of cuts”.
I do not criticise him for taking an opportunity to network at a hospitality event, and I make it clear that there is no suggestion that he was put under any improper pressure, or that there is anything untoward in the invite or his acceptance of it (and as the Gazette makes clear, this story only came to light because he quite properly declared it)

What intrigues me is  Cllr Murray’s desperate explanation (when challenged) for attending a cricketing event given that he implausibly claimed to have little understanding or enthusiasm for the sport (despite having attending public school). 

His quote in full:-

When asked why he could not have a discussion about Islington’s housing priorities in a different setting, Cllr James said there was a broad range of people at the event and it was an opportunity to talk to them all.
He said: “I don’t know much about cricket and I still don’t after going to the match as I took it as an opportunity to talk to people.”
“I went there because it was a chance to speak to lots of people and other councils about the needs of Islington.”

I am not sure the other (unnamed) people enjoying Family Mosaic’s hospitality and trying to enjoy the cricket would have been bowled over by being talked at by Cllr Murray about the needs of Islington, or what that would have achieved. A waste of Cllr Murrays time, an annoyance for others, and certainly a waste of a ticket.

James Murray was one of Islington’s finest Councillors, but previously claimed that he “nearly had to leave Islington altogether” as a newly elected opposition Cllr back in 2007, as the rental market was “unaffordable” (this was before his Executive Allowance ) Thankfully Islington Labour MP Emily Thornberry helped out by buying a Housing Association properly at auction, and renting  out “cheap and cheerful rooms to young peoples”, one of whom was Cllr Murray.
(Full story in Camden New Journal)
It was that tough background that helped forge the young Cllr into the hosing campaigner he became and the high-salaried Deputy Mayor for housing he has become.
So let him not be judged harshly for his freebie. But if Family Mosaic want to invite people in future to talk about housing AND enjoy the cricket, let them start with their tenants. They may deserve it more, they would certainly enjoy it more.

The James Murray cricketing playlist

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Speech at CLFS Conference, May 13 2016

Intro



I am now all that stands between you and the Friday evening drink, and all that stands between you and the weekend. I therefore hope to be brief.

Although probably not as much as you hope that I will be brief.

I have been asked to speak on the topic of “the victory”, or the “win” by which I think is meant the climb-down earlier this year by the MOJ in respect of two tier contracting.
I have to say that this was very much a Pyrrhic victory, and although there was much relief, there was only muted celebration.

Much time, energy – and money – had been expended on tortuously difficult tendering documents, much anxiety hanging on the results. Firms had closed or merged in anticipation of the outcome, or planned mergers. Solicitors changed firms- only some voluntarily.

Some were bidders, some not, some “winners” some losers.

Then when contracts were awarded, those unfairly left out were minded to challenge the outcome, potentially in conflict with those awarded contracts.
What was Two Tier ?

Accompanying another 8.75% fee cut, yes the follow up to a the first 8.75% cut we had already absorbed, TT was the controversial contract-tendering procedure which would restrict the number of law firms permitted to do duty legal work. 

It was hatched by the MOJ and initiated by Chris Grayling, the previous Injustice Secretary. It was supported -encouraged even- by some firms in the BFG.

It threatened to wreak havoc on a supplier base acknowledged to be fragile, and for comparatively modest savings.

This proposed enforced consolidation of the profession would have been effectively forcing many solicitors’ firms to merge or close.

This, despite an acknowledgement that over the last parliament annual spending on legal aid was reduced from £2.4bn to £1.6bn.

What went wrong?
TT was wrong in principle, but to add insult to injury it was ultimately botched in application.

Contracts were awarded, and a whistleblower revealed the marking had been carried out by unqualified temps from a recruitment agency. 

So unsuccessful firms took legal action against the MOJ….

Take the example of EFBW:-

In October EFBW were informed by the LAA that they had been narrowly unsuccessful in their attempt to obtain a legal aid contract for duty solicitor work in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. EFBW brought legal challenges (represented by Bindmans) against the results of the procurement process in all three areas. Almost 100 other firms brought similar challenges.
The LAA then admitted that it made a basic transcription error in scoring at least one of EFBW’s bids, and that consequently EFBW should have been awarded a contract in Hackney. 

The possibility of such an error was identified by Bindmans in October, but was not addressed by the LAA in pre action correspondence and a formal offer of ADR was not taken up. 

The LAA sought to resist disclosure to other firms, and a Court order had to be requested.

Even after disclosure, the LAA ignored requests to settle EFBW’s claim and proceeded to file a defence that admitted the error but failed to acknowledge the consequences. Only later did they acknowledge that if the error had not been made, EFBW should have scored higher than at least one of the purported successful bidders, and therefore should have been awarded a contract.

The LAA still refused to settle the claim despite the fact that it should never have had to be brought, and summary judgement was sought.

So, increasingly firms involved were confident of victory, but the case rumbled on.
The Announcement.

In January the SoS for Justice, MIchael Gove announced that the plans for two-tier contracting and the cuts of 8.75% to legal aid fees for duty criminal solicitors were to be suspended.

This was a policy U-turn which followed many others, as Gove re-planted the scorched earth of the Grayling period.

Announcing the about-turn in a Commons written statement, Gove pointed out that awarding a limited number of “dual contracts” – under which solicitors take on duty legal aid work at police stations and magistrates courts as well as represent their own clients – would lead to a less diverse and competitive market.

WE COULD HAVE TOLD THEM THAT!

(WE DID TELL THEM THAT!!)



 We had pointed out that natural consolidation was already taking place in the criminal legal aid market, as crime reduced and natural competition took place.
Gove also accepted his department had already made substantial savings.
Secondly,as he said:-

 ” it has become clear, following legal challenges mounted against our procurement process, that there are real problems in pressing ahead as initially proposed. My department currently faces 99 separate legal challenges over the procurement process, which has required us to stay the award of new contracts. 

In addition, a judicial review challenging the entire process has raised additional implementation challenges. Given how delicately balanced the arguments have always been … I have decided not to go ahead with the introduction of the dual contracting system”
So ultimately it was the lawyers wot won it, using the only effective tactic in our armoury- the law.

We can celebrate the acts of those in the litigation that argued the tendering process was fundamentally flawed. There was also support even from those not directly involved:

big firms and small, private and legal aid, 

two-tier contracts, single-tier contracts and lots- of -tears no contracts.

History of Campaign



Before the “victory” there were other battles in the ongoing war, with many skirmishes along the way. By ongoing war, I mean the continuing battle for legal aid lawyers to be properly paid.

First there was a consultation, or bearing in mind it was from the MOJ a NONsultation.

That was flawed, and had to be re-run.

Then there was the tendering procurement scheme itself, and the JR in which we argued the whole scheme was irrational. 

The LCCSA was proud to have fought that battle, together with CLSA and TLS.

We lost.

And it was expensive.

We campaigned and fundraised.

Many of you contributed – thank you.

Counsel’s fees from a leading Admin set totalled around £150k (which goes to show why we should practice admin law not crim law)

That meant, despite generous donations, we depleted our reserves and gave our treasurer sleepless nights. 

So the fact that we have survived as an Association, with membership steady, and in a period of consolidation, is a victory of sorts.
But campaigning had started long before the litigation

For example:-

On May 22nd 2013 the LCCSA organised a demo which generated national coverage

On the afternoon of the same day there was a national meeting attended by 1000 solicitors and barristers. 

On 4th June (the closing date of the first consultation) another demo organised by solicitors outside the MOJ again with considerable national publicity. 

By March the following year there was a day of action, a withdrawal of services from courts, called in some quarters a “strike”.

We had No Returns.

We had a protocol where firms agreed to sign up no new legal aid cases. Only a small minority breached that, some reluctantly for vulnerable own clients only, and fewer still took an opportunity to clean up or profit.

We learned solidarity, and began to trust each other.
But the truth is so far as funding is concerned, for years we have endured a slow death by a thousand cuts, a sustained attack, and only belatedly we learned to fight back. 

We campaigned, protested, demonstrated, withdrew services, and went on strike.

We battled the most odious and incompetent of Lord Chancellors, the infamous Chris Grayling.

To be perfectly blunt, he was a bit of a

difficult man to engage with.

Grayling, known by all as “failing Grayling” was described by JH as a “turd that couldn’t be flushed”.Grayling didn’t like lawyers, and the feeling was mutual.

So, we rallied in Parliament square, outside Westminster Magistrates Court, the Old Bailey and MoJ HQ, and we walked from Runnymede to Westminster.
And we took legal action against the MoJ, with our JR at the High Court.
Much of this achieved little at the time, so maybe the “win” in January is something we should cherish.

The New Legal Aid Landscape



Right to legal aid is ‘basic human right’, Jeremy Corbyn told a Justice Alliance meeting at the start of this year. 

Whether you area Corbynista or not, the fact that the Leader of a Political Party – the leader of the opposition no less – not only mentions legal aid but does so in a supportive way is a significant development.

Labour have initiated the Bach review into Legal Aid, and Gove has said that he is convening a committee or forum to discuss legal aid in a constructive way.

There was nothing constructive about relations/negotiations with Failing Grayling, so the political landscape has certainly changed.

Unity 
Two years ago, Paul Harris spoke about the need for unity.

At that time, relations between leadership of the criminal bar and solicitors had reached a low point. Last year Greg Powell again spoke on the theme of unity. This followed a slightly fractious period- relations between solicitors and our friends at the bar had become strained. Like an old married couple, we were bickering, but I think we are living comfortably together again now.

At least until the next row! 

We are working constructively on proposals for AGFS and litigator fees to try and make sure we are all properly paid for the work we properly do.

We can learn from what happened when Grayling successfully sought to divide and rule.

The lesson of unity is a simple one, especially where we have a common enemy.

United we stand, divided we fall.
Current Campaigns



There is always some horror lurking around the corner.

 Currently, during this quiet period when Michael Gove has become the SoS for Brexit, our friends at the Sentencing Guidelines Council are consulting on the amount of credit for guilty pleas- and with some alarming proposals out there to reduce the incentive if the client didn’t cough and confess at point of arrest. 

If not before.
BCM/ DCS/ PTPH/CJSM 


Yes its acronym time – Bloody Case Management, Dire Case Systems and Pressure to Plead Hearings. 

A good idea in principle- less hearings, less paper.

But the underlying problems have not gone away -inadequate disclosure, late disclosure, lack of legal aid, problem getting prison visits etc.

The LCCSA and CBA have worked hard to try and help this work, at a series of meetings, from the National Implementation Team (NIT) to the London Implementation Team (LIT)

Thankfully there hasn’t been further devolution to the Central London Implementation Team, or the South Hampstead Implementation Team, the anacronym of which may best sum up the whole mess.
Gove

Gove didn’t just abandon two-tier tendering.

He had already reversed many of Grayling’s money saving initiatives, including 

-the ban on prisoners receiving books from their families 

-the equally detested criminal courts courts charge, (the mandatory payment of up to £1,200 imposed on all convicted defendants irrespective or means or ability to pay

He forced the government to cancel a £5.9 million contract to advise the Saudi Arabian prison system.

He scrapped the commercial wing of the Ministry of Justice after human rights concerns.

And Gove abandoned plans to build a £100 million “secure college” for teenage prisoners.
But where is he now?

Missing in Action
He popped up at HCMC at the start of this year on a day where I also happened to be there, and as he was meeting everyone but the defence I ambushed him with a letter requesting a meeting, and he agreed.


We are still waiting.

But perhaps no news is good news.

We have had enough of diktat and pronouncement by highly paid civil servants at the MOJ , and we have had enough of cuts.

 We cannot take any more.

The sustainability of the justice system relies on proper preparation and presentation of cases.

We all play our parts- barristers and solicitors.

Brothers and sisters in arms.

So yes we had a victory in January, but let’s not be fooled- that was a battle, and so far as legal aid is concerned there is an ongoing war.

At least we no longer have Grayling, who managed to combine total war with Cold War.

But depending on the outcome of the Euro Referendum, we may not have Mr Gove much longer, and who knows who will succeed him?
The LCCSA had virtually -and by necessity- re-invented ourselves as a campaigning organisation.

Thankfully, we have put the banners and t-shirts away, at least for now , and gone back to our core business- training events, representing criminal lawyers in London whether doing legal aid or not, and of course our famous social events.

Which presents me the chance to do my one “plug” – the LCCSA Summer Party, July 8th!

So it’s a half- cheer for the Victory in January, and a relief that we can get back to our day jobs.

Some of us will always remember where we were on the day when we heard the news of Gove’s announcement abandoning two-tier. 

I certainly remember going to the pub to meet fellow lawyers to celebrate the victory.

Unhappily, I was in “dry January” and celebrated without the assistance of alcohol.

That bleak month has long passed, and I promised not too keep you too long from your drinks.

So I hope to see some of you in the pub- Steve has the details- and let us raise a glass to justice, celebrate solidarity, drink to the health of legal aid, and share a toast -to Victory.

Cheers!

Greg Foxsmith

President, LCCSA

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Offending in Islington

Crime in Islington is on the rise, and questions have been asked of the Council’s “Crime tsar” Councillor Paul “crack-down” Convery under whose watch mobile phone thefts, robberies and knife crime rocketed.

In an internal “scrutiny” report, LBI Councillors have swallowed Convery’s explanation that this is all down to “soft-touch” magistrates letting offenders off too lightly, as reported in the Islington Tribune here (“Fears young thieves and drug dealers are getting an easy ride from Islington magistrates”)

In fact, the report, even after making allowances for the sloppy drafting and poor grammar, shows a shocking lack of knowledge about the causes of crime, the prevention of crime, and the workings of the Criminal Justice System.

Background

Islington Labour has always had a default position of cracking-down on crime by deterrent and retribution rather than prevention and rehabilitation, and were early and enthusiastic supporters of the ineffective counter-productive ASBOs.

There has also been an over-reliance on CCTV, turning Islington into a closed-circuit saturation State, but without proper investment or supervision on those agencies who can actually work within communities to prevent crime.

The writing was on the wall by January this year, with a damming report into a failing Youth Offending Service , and rising crime figures.

Scrutiny” Report

In a belated attempt to examine the “causes of crime”, it is clear Labour Councillors have looked for excuses rather than reasons as evidenced in the attempt to blame “lenient sentencing” for Islington’s crime figures, predictably grabbing the headlines and deflecting attention from their own failings.

Nowhere is this clearer than in “recommendation 1” which calls for a “briefing meeting” with the “Clerks” at Highbury Court. 

It shows how out of touch the Councillors are when they refer to “clerks” where they presumably mean Legal Advisers, the name being changed over 10 years ago, and demonstrates the first failing of their review- a failure to actually visit the Court, and witness sentencing in practice (albeit there is no public gallery in the Youth Court, a quick observation in the Adult Court would show the rigour with which sentences are applied) 

The “clerks” (legal advisers) do not pass sentence, but advise the Magistrates on sentencing powers- and any attempt to interfere with that process by “briefings” to magistrates would be an intolerable interference with Judicial Independence. In any event, there is NO evidence to show that sentencing at Highbury is “more lenient” than at any other Court- which is unlikely as sentencing guidelines ensure consistency across Courts.

The fact is that far from leniency, in England and Wales we lock up more young people, and for longer, than any other European Country, with nothing to show for this draconian incarceration but recidivism and failure. In 1997, the Government lowered the age of criminal responsibility for children from 14 to 10, and presided over a five-fold increase in youths imprisoned in the following decade.

The reoffending rate for children who have been in custody is around 75%, suggesting that child custody is not an effective rehabilitation strategy. Nonetheless, we are seeing an increase in prison sentences and decline in community punishment.

Islington Labour Councillors responsible for the report are out of touch. Cllr Convery has been challenged by Frances Crook of Howard League for Penal Reform to produce evidence in support of his assertions, and is awaiting a reply.

Notes

A variation of this article was published in the Islington Tribune, 13th May (Forum pice)

Guardian summary of PRT report explaining why so many young people end up in custody here 

Howard League: Publications on youth offending 

Current Sentencing Guidelines Council consultation on Youth Sentencing here

Read about Cllr Convery’s Late Night Levy Madness (a privately funded barmy army patrolling Islington streets)

Playlist for Crime in Islington.

Gove and Prison Reform – need to cut prison numbers (argues Simon Jenkins in the Guardian)

Photos

1 Councillor Convery Cannabis Crackdown


2 Cllr Convery on CCTV


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Hillsborough Inquest – a lawyer’s perspective (guest blog by Anna Morris)

Dedicated to the memory of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster who died on 15 April 1989.

On 26th April 2016, I hugged two of my clients with elation after a jury of 6 women and 3 men set the record straight after 27 years about what happened at Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989. Moments later, they looked at each other and said, without missing a beat, “so, what do we do tomorrow?” They hadn’t dared to believe there could be a day when they would not have to fight for justice, to fight to clear the name of their loved one. This had been a life-defining fight for a generation of children, wives, parents and siblings of those 96 men, women, boys and girls.

The jury’s conclusions finally saw their families achieve something they recognise as justice. Much has rightly been reported about their tenacity, commitment and patience. But I want to say something about their humanity.

The families have endured the longest jury case in English legal history. 319 days of witnesses, evidence and submissions. For many of the families, attending Birchwood business park had become a full time job. Employers who asked, “haven’t you got over it yet?” had to be negotiated with, child-care had to be arranged, health problems had to be managed, life continued to be put on hold. But when they could be there, they were there. Sitting, listening. Waiting.

At the start of the process, many approached with caution after decades of being let down again and again by lawyers, judges and politicians. They had no reason to trust us, their lawyers but as they sat there in our conferences, polite but knotted tense with questions and anger, their thoughts were never just of themselves; “who will look after the jury?” “What about the survivors, who speaks for them?” “How do I find the man who helped our brother, I want to thank him?” We could only tell them, “we will try and get these answers for you. We hope we can”.

Most of the families had an encyclopedic knowledge of the papers disclosed as part of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. As their lawyers we had to be able to call up documents at the click of a finger to answer the broad and complex questions that troubled them. More than one set piece of witness examination conducted by our team of advocates was centered on a document recalled through the mists of time by one of our clients, tracked down in the 250,000 plus pages of disclosed material. In fact, one of my clients, when she presented 10 neatly typed pages of devastatingly precise and searching questions to Operation Resolve, the Coroner’s Investigation team, was (with only a hint of humour) offered a job as an investigator. We all had to be at our best. No one wanted to let these families down.

But on many occasions, it was our clients looking after us, using their 27 years of pain to help us navigate our way through the sea of changing emotions. From flasks of pea-whack soup served from the boot of a car, to cups of tea in their homes, we were shown such warmth and respect that it was truly humbling. I took great strength from one client who, when I asked her how she kept going through all the lies being told about her brother, about him being a drunken hooligan who caused his own death, she simply smiled broadly and answered, “eyes and teeth, eyes and teeth”. I have repeated that mantra many times since that day.

During the inquest I was the mother to one young boy and pregnant with a second. I was representing the family of boys who were 15 and 19 when they died and I was incredibly moved by the loss of so many young boys’ lives. I couldn’t imagine them just not coming home one day. One client, on the morning of her young son’s inquest, presented me with a bag full of hand knitted baby clothes specially made for my son. It absolutely floored me that this woman could even think about anyone else in the circumstances, let alone extend such deep kindness. I have a drawer full of beautiful blankets and clothes, made by those strong women of Liverpool. Nothing could make me prouder.

When my youngest son finally made his first trip to Birchwood, he was passed from mother to mother, bounced on knees and fussed over as if he was one of their own. It only struck me later, like a tidal wave, that I had been swapping teething, sleeping and feeding stories about children who would never grow old.

There are many small moments that made the Hillsborough Inquests more than just an inquiry into the circumstances into how 96 people died that day. Moments that might have started in the court room but resonated far wider. The pen portraits that painted the real pictures of 96 cherished loved ones who attended a football match and never came home with humour and dignity. The vigorous handshake in the corridor between a father and the off-duty Metropolitan Police Officer who pulled his son from the pen, the damp-eyed slap on the back for the fellow fan that carried someone’s brother on a stretcher and wished he could have done more. The sympathetic words for colleagues who also lost loved ones during the months of the inquests. The jurors who when discharged when court concluded that final time, were each hugged by the families, each thanked for their commitment. The families in their grace never left anyone un-thanked. I hope that those witnesses, relieved of their burden after 27 years were the lighter for it.

Every day of the inquest we shared tea and tears with those who traveled to that grey box on a business park. On the some of the most difficult days of evidence, the families would always be able to find a joke, a smile and a hug for each other. Willing each other on. Someone was always in charge of making sure there was milk for tea and the biscuit tin was always full.

They are the best in all of us. It could have been any of us in their shoes whose brother, father, sister or son went to that match. They have defied the state’s attempt to define them by gender, geography, class or type. We can all aspire to their dignity and strength. It has been a privilege to walk with them on a small part of their journey.

No one can now deny the success and the power of the families’ campaign for justice all these years. They are the reason that 96 verdicts of ‘accidental death’ were quashed. It is their demands that ensured the truth has now been heard. We should never be in doubt that this is the reason why families should be at the heart of the inquest system.

Anna Morris, May 2016


NOTES/LINKS

Hillsborough Independent Report: http://hillsborough.independent.gov.uk (disclosed materials and report)

Inquest Charity: http://www.inquest.org.uk/

Michael Mansfield: “Hillsborough families were my rock ” (Liverpool Echo)

A full if harrowing account of the evidence, the inquest and the outcome reported in the Guardian here.

Why the police” apology” was neither sincere or believable explained by Mark George QC. 

Call for a rebalance of the justice system and equality of arms at Inquest hearings (reported here in the Guardian May 2016)

Another Hillsborough Lawyer, Elkan Abrahamson, interviewed here in the Liverpool Echo.

About the author

Anna Morris is a barrister at Garden Court chambers. Anna’s practice focuses on criminal justice and civil liberties and encompasses criminal defence and appellate advice, inquests into deaths in custody, civil actions against the police and public law. A human rights specialist, Anna has extensive experience of successfully representing clients whose cases challenge public policy and promote civil liberties. Read full profile on Chambers website here.

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20k in 2 days

On Sunday 15 May I ran 10k in the Hornsey 10k. My son Daniel (9) ran a mile. These runs were part of the great Crouch End festival, and I have blogged about it  here. 

In previous years we raised £150 and were delighted to do so again. Please sponsor us here.  thank you 

On Monday 16 May I walked 10k as part of the LCCSA team doing the London Legal Walk raising money for legal charity LLST. 

Please sponsor us Via this link Thank you

(I blogged about the 2014 Legal Walk here.)

There were over 9000 walkers from numerous teams, including one from my local court Highbury Corner, pictured below.

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Freelance Advocacy Services: News and Advocacy Availability

Subscribe to the Fortnightly Freelancer! An email bulletin sent on request every other Friday. 

Content is updated regularly here (as is availability on www.freelanceadvocacyservices.uk

Football News:- Plymouth Argyle play in the Div 2 Play-off final at Wembley on Monday. To mark this historic occasion, the offices of Freelance Advocacy Services will be closed for the day  

Greg Foxsmith COURT AVAILABILITY:-

Last week I represented someone charged with “stalking” a well known media personality, who (despite having journalistic experience and presumably familiar with rules on contempt of court) inexplicably chose to give an interview in a national newspaper which discussed the case and contained information prejudicial to the defendant. The newspapers responsible have been reported to the AG office.

I am in Ireland 27-29 May (officiating at the wedding of Ronnie Manek of counsel and Aideen McMahon solicitor, GTS) and at Wembley on Monday.  Thereafter I am available for criminal or regulatory hearings. Future availability here.   

To book please email gregfoxsmith@msn.com or call 07980846330  

Lawyer of the Week: Charmaine Japaul

See also Elkan Abrahamson – Hillsborough lawyer (article in Liverpool Echo)

Charmaine is a solicitor and HCA with McClartys. She serves on the LCCSA committee. 

Charmaine has organised the LCCSA team which aims to complete the London Legal Walk for charity on Monday. Please support us here.

Lawyers on the move: Good luck to Ricky Yau, leaving GT Stewart solicitors after 17 years!

A full list of this year’s Lawyers of the Year (so far) is here (and 2015 here)

Music for May. Five years ago this month, Vicky Pryce admitted taking penalty points for speeding Chris Huhne. What happened next? I have set out the whole story in this playlist: the Chris Huhne story (in Queen songs) 

May is National Walking Week. Try this Walking playlist. May playlist here

NEWS

Gove’s Advisory Panel (on legal aid announced here in Jan.) will be chaired by Gove’s mate, controversial QC Gary Bell. 

Gary hates HCAs, and firms that employ them (read his expressions of contempt here). Gary also tells us that he “cried” on becoming a QC. Read more about how QCs are appointed below…

Crowd-funding a new legal-aid  project Read about a great new initiative from the Justice Alliance and Justice Gap here.

Coping with online Disclosure Sandra Paul explains here.

(You can see more of Sandra Paul here on YOUTUBE plugging the Times Student Advocacy competition sponsored by KN)

How to become a QC: This letter tells us much about the judiciary, the bar and silk selection….

Jon Black on Brexit writing in the Solicitors Journal here

London Legal Walk Thank you to all who sponsored the LCCSA committee team. Congratulations though to the Highbury Corner Magistrates Court team, entering for the first time, who raised over £700 (and can still be sponsored here!)


Prison Reform Good words from Gove, but this will fail if prison numbers don’t fall (argues Simon Jenkins in the Guardian)

CLFS Conference – London  (Detail here) Over 300 delegates attended. My speech here.

New lawyer on the block: Greg “Box-Smith” defending, as reported in the SCUM newspaper....

Hillsborough:New blog- barrister Anna Morris shares her experience as counsel at the Inquest in this guest blog

Sentencing Guidelines Council –new consultation for sentencing youths here

New Mayor Congratulations to new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. As a former civil rights lawyer he endured a classic slur by associating him with clients during the campaign. Two years ago the LCCSA team walked part of the London Legal Walk with Sadiq (photo above) – this year we will manage without, but please sponsor our effort nonetheless.

Some of you may remember Sadiq addressing a Legal Aid rally in Parliament Square – you can see his clip here on YouTube (about 3 mins in, after Dave Rowntree from Blur)

Crime in Islington -my response to a call from Islington Labour Councillors to Highbury Magistrates for an increase in custodial sentences for young offenders here

Last weekend (7th May) in South London was a charity football match for the Hundred Families charity, organised by criminal defence solicitor Len Hodkin (GT Stewart) Please show support by making a donation. Read more about the event and the charity in Len’s blog. Alternatively just text HUND43 £5 to 70070 for a £5 contribution. Update here.

Report into unrepresented defendants here (by Penelope Gibbs for Transform Justice) See also Tuesday Truth.

On Monday last, the LCCSA committee team completed  the London Legal Walk. You can still sponsor us!  Via this link 


PREVIOUS NEWS ITEMS

Criminal Justice Inspectorate reports on Digitilisation- critically. Report on their website here.

Highbury Court flooded –again. Detail in Islington Gazette here.

Sentencing Council consults on new proposals for credit for guilty pleas: please read this then respond.

HJA Solicitor Daniel Godden had a key role in providing a work opportunity in BBC programme Employable Me – if you missed out first time around, you can view on catch-up here. (HJA colleagues Ruth Harris and Nigel Richardson also feature)

A good case-study by Jim Skelsey illustrates those cases that make all the different (Heavy Handed Justice in Justice Gap)

Wormwood Scrubs. Client facing custody? Do everything you can to avoid the Scrubs. Overcrowded, rat-infested and deteriorating? Read the horrifying full report

Happy Birthday Chris Grayling! Yes, Grayling was born on April Fools Day. Read about his legacy here.

Liberty. Congratulations and good luck to Martha Spurrier who takes over from Shami Chakrabarti (detail here)

London Legal Walk Its fast approaching that time of year when lawyers walk 10k for legal charity. If you would like to be part of the LCCSA team, please contact Charmaine Jaipaul charmainejapaul@gmail.com)

Stop the Touts! Will the SRA act?! Report in Law Society Gazette

What next for Legal Aid? Young Legal Aid Lawyers consider their future in this piece in the Solicitors Journal

Community Advice at Court. Check out This piece on the Centre for Justice Innovation website.

Kicking Off. Please read this guest blog by Len Hodkin (solicitor at GT Stewart)

Lenient Sentence? The “Hatton Garden raid” sentence considered here

Doesn’t time fly? It was 2 years ago this week we demonstrated against legal aid cuts on what wasGrayling Day

Congrats to LCCSA Veterans 5-a-side footy team (captain-S. Bird) for finishing 2nd in London Legal Aid Lawyers league!

Congratulations to Tim Walker (Sonn McMillan Walker, and former treasurer of LCCSA) on his appointment as a Recorder at the Crown Court. Always good to see solicitor appointments, and Tim will make an excellent Judge.

London marathon. Please check this link and dig deep to support the fight against cancer.

The End of Two-tier! Dramatic development as Michael Gove abandons the hated contracting proposals introduced by Grayling, which were fundamentally flawed and led to litigation. The announcement here. (LCCSA response here.) Reports in the Solicitor’s Journal and in the Law Society Gazette

Voices for Justice – the Justice Alliance hosted speakers including J Corbyn as reported in the Guardian

  

DSCC Problems First they were hacked. Then they were not hacked…(Gazette article)

MoJ and Two Tier. First there were rumours MoJ was dropping two tier. Then they were not. Then it was “under review”….(Law Society call for clarity

Michael Gove visited Highbury Court recently as revealed exclusively in the last Friday Freelancer. A report on Gove’s visit was subsequently published in the Law Society Gazette here.

Transfer of Legal Aid -read a sensible proposal from Greg Powell
Ministry of Justice cock-up contract awards -read the full story via Edward Fail website

Review of 2015  via The Justice Gap here and Jon Black looks back on the legal aid litigation of last year in the Solicitors Journal here

New Allocation Guideline -the Sentencing Council this week published a guideline for Allocation of cases – detail here. (comes into effect March 2016)

President Speech  –shortened version of my speech as new LCCSA President (AGM, Nov 2015)

Alternative to Criminal Court Charge – see my blog with a proposal for replacement here 

18 year old dies in adult prison  read about the sad case of suicide in custody of Imran D. in this blog

Labour Legal Aid Review. I attended a meeting of the Labour Party review into Legal Aid, chaired by Lord Bach, and attended by the shadow chancellor, shadow Lord chancellor, Karl Turner MP and Jeremy Corbyn
  
  
Law Society Excellence Awards.I was honoured to receive the Highly Commended Award for Solicitor Advocate of the Year at this years awards. Thank you to those who nominated or supported the application, particularly Sandra, Jon, Sean, Ronnie, Amanda, Lee and the Shearman Bowen team.

  

When Kate met Paul –read Kate Goold’s account of the Gambaccini case , and how it illustrates the bigger picture on police bail and necessary reform.Advice Service at Highbury Court. Read all about it here!

The pre-history of Magna Carta -a blog by David wilson.

Strike! Coverage of the Criminal Lawyers strike over Legal Aid received international coverage. My comments on Spanish TV on  this link.

Legal Aid cuts. My comments on BBC news here (June 2015)

Prisoner book ban- rules relaxed by Michael Gove, in a welcome departure from the policy of his predecessor.My forum piece in the Islington Tribune here.

Joint Enterprise-time for reform? New blog by Ronnie Manek. 

Legal Aid Fact Checker Check out facts behind the myths on Legal Aid.

The Law on Children and Young PersonsCheck out this on-line resource –Youth Justice Legal Centre

Modern Slavery Act  Get up to speed with the New Act in this synopsis by Ben Ticehurst.

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Hornsey YMCA and the Crouch End Festival

My son Daniel (9) ran a mile at this year’s Crouch End festival to raise funds for North London YMCA.  All the money raised goes directly to their work and services, not fundraisers, bureaucrats or charity directors. Their work is community based, and includes outreach work, youth work, housing and finance advice.
In 2014 we raised £150 and we hit that target again last year

THANK YOU FOR HELPING US REACH THAT TARGET AGAIN! 

It’s not too late to help by sponsoring Daniel now-thank you!



Running Playlist here

Below-Daniel and Adam from a previous year’s effort

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Below:- end of 10k!


Air Quality in Islington

Air pollution is rising at an alarming rate in major Cities including London (as reported in the Guardian (May 2016))

Islington, like much of London, continues to suffer from polluted air, whilst the Council takes inadequate action to improve air quality. It is time for real action, and the new London Mayor should widen the Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) proposed for 2020 to include more areas such as Islington.


Labour (who run Islington) should have campaigned to get TFL to include LBI in ULEZ. Instead, they voted against that proposal by Green Cllr Caroline Russell when raised in December 2014 (as she explains here.)

Air quality in Islington is terrible, the air we breathe being potentially deadly. Respiratory illnesses, asthma, heart and lung problems, cancer, and dramatically reduced life expectancy are the consequences of the polluted air, and the lethal micro-particles we inhale along with nitrogen dioxide. Two years ago I called for the council to aim for a diesel-free borough (as reported here in the Islington Tribune)
Air pollution levels in Islington- even near schools- are double EU limits (as reported in Islington Gazette)
In the great smog of 60 years ago, people could see and taste the polluted air around them- and Government acted quickly, passing the Clean Air Act. The pollutants we ingest now are on the whole invisible*,odourless, but arguably more deadly.But because they are an unseen killer, it is easy for politicians to fail to act. There are policy failings at National, London(mayoral) and local levels.

In the absence of proper monitoring by LBI, Islington Green Party funded air quality checks which showed illegal and dangerous levels of pollutants including near schools (figures here)


Islington Council is not funding the actions that are needed to protect residents, especially young children, from harm. Sadly, in February 2014 at the Council’s budget Labour Cllrs voted against a modest expenditure on air quality, choosing instead to spend Council Tax money on their allowances and political spin doctors. They then voted against a budget amendment proposed by Green Councillor Caroline Russell in February this year (
see here)

The scrutiny report of May 2013 which recommended a number of changes the Council should implement has been largely ignored and now removed from the Council’s website.

Mayor Sadiq Khan made great promises to tackle air pollution, after 8 years of inaction by Boris, but his first act on taking office was to withdraw opposition to City Airport expansion!


What residents want is clean air, not hot air.

Check out music on this Clean Air Playlist

For more info on clean air in London generally, check out Clean Air in London

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*although on some sunny days you can see the discoloured air! especially from high up- as in the photo above on Town Hall roof

Below:- receiving award from Clean Air in London

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Why Parent Governors make good Governors

The Government has announced it’s intention to “abolish” Parent Governors. This decision, made out of the blue, removes the vital link between the school and the community it serves- the parents of those attending. 

Having previously served two terms as a school governor, I came to  value the challenges and  responsibility of supporting my local school. The experience of being a Governor varies depending on the type of school, and the composition and leadership of the governing body involved. And of course, it can go badly wrong

It is my belief that parent governors are an essential component of the governing body. 

1 Parent Governors are motivated 

Parents have a very obvious vested interest in supporting a school and making it a success. Too often, Governor positions (especially LEA appointments) are filled by people seemingly looking for something to put on a CV, or to parade their civic responsibilities, but with apparently little or no connection to the school. LEA appointments in practice are within the gift of the politicians from the ruling party in a town hall, and some appointments are undoubtedly political rather than practical which can lead  to the kind of unfortunate situation seen here.

A school should be inclusive and governance should be representative of it’s community, and parents (like canaries in a mine) often know before staff or other governors what problems or issues are brewing, or can head silly ideas or policies unwelcome by parents and pupils.Parent Governors are more likely to recognise and act on serious problems at a school -rather than (as in the linked example) an appointed Governor being unaware, and then trying to blame others.

2 Regular contact with the school is helpful
It’s all very well just going to the meetings. 
Governors have the opportunity to visit the school, meet staff, sit-in lessons, check the accounts, speak to staff, and observe the school in action. Being a parent governor, and therefore involved in school activities, or drop-off/collection , makes this more likely.  This keeps eyes open and ears on the ground, and avoid being “gob-smacked” as this Governor apparently was when told of the school’s  bullying, “low attainment, weak teaching, inadequate progress and high levels of unauthorised absence”, bleating that “Governors weren’t told about that”.

3 Diversity and Accountability are good
It does help if a governing body is reflective of the diversity of the school, and elected parent governors are a good way of achieving that. Parent Governors are elected, and therefore accountable.

4 Good Communications
Governing boards can get caught up in a bubble, inward facing, with no effective communication with the rest of school body. I believe governor decisions should be transparent, accessible and accountable, and Governors should make efforts to communicate effectively with the wider school body. Parent governors help make this happen.

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KICKING OFF for the Hundred Families Charity (Guest blog by Len Hodkin)

The 2nd floor at the Central Criminal Court will forever have a special place in my heart and for those of you who know me, no, I am not referring to the café. It is home to a unique group of people, who in my opinion, are more important, more significant than any Judge, prosecutor or defence counsel who attends the Old Bailey. You will have all seen them. They are there every day and they go about their business quietly and largely unnoticed but the court could not operate without them.

I refer to Linda Harlow and her amazing team of volunteers from the Witness Service. These unsung heroes support not only the victim’s families but prosecution and defence witnesses alike in addition to children and vulnerable witnesses.

 I had heard of the Witness Service and had some dealings with them across the various Courts I had attended across London but was largely ignorant as to what they actually did. I thought it was simply a case of escorting a witness to and from the Court to give evidence. How wrong I was.

 In 2012 my family and I spent four and a half weeks at the Old Bailey for trial of the woman who killed my mum Sally. It is not an experience I would ever wish to repeat yet strangely enough, I do look back upon those four and a half weeks with immense fondness. I witnessed first hand the volunteers from the Witness Service at work. I saw them share the burden of victims and witnesses grief and trauma. I saw them offer comfort and support to those in their darkest hour. A service all delivered with a smile and an unwavering passion for what they do. A service very much undervalued and overlooked by many but most importantly a service which is free. A Safe Haven.

 It was a privilege to see these amazing folk at work. My family and I cannot thank them enough for how we were treated and looked after and we are no different to the hundreds of families, witnesses and children who come through the doors at the Old Bailey each year.

 Each year since my mum’s death we have held a memorial football match at Welling United Football Club. Read media coverage of last year’s event HERE) To date we have raised over 35k for charitable causes. In 2013 we donated a substantial amount to the Witness Service along with the family of Elouise Littlewood to help renovate the witness rooms at the Old Bailey. Now the waiting area and rooms are almost unrecognisable to those that were there in 2012. 

   

  
  

 

However, the job is not quite finished…

 This years Charity game will be held at Welling United on 7 May with a 3pm kick off. We are raising money for the Witness Service at the Old Bailey and a Charity called Hundred Families of which I am a Trustee.

 Hundred families: http://www.hundredfamilies.org/

 Hundred Families is a small charity that receives no Government funding. We provide practical support, information, and advocacy services throughout Britain for families who have lost loved ones as a result of killings by people with mental illness. We work with the Criminal Justice System and the Health Service to secure meaningful improvements for victims’ families and the way in which they are treated. We provide research, training and evidence based resources to mental health professionals and policy makers to try and prevent such killings from happening in future. This year we produced a Practical Guide for families after mental health homicide. This guide is available to download free from our website or free in hard copy upon request.

 If anyone would like to come along to the Football match on Saturday 7 May 2016 please feel free. Everyone is welcome and it is a good family day out. There is also a raffle held after the game. If anyone would like to advertise in the programme, buy raffle tickets or simply make a donation please contact me at len@hundredfamilies.org or you can donate by text. For example to buy 5 raffle tickets just text HUND43 £5 to 70070just text HUND43 £5 to 70070 

To donate to the Witness Service or ensure your donation is made available specifically for the benefit of witnesses and bereaved families at the Central Criminal Court please

• make a cheque payable to Citizens Advice and send it to:

Citizens Advice Witness Service, Central Criminal Court,  Old Bailey ,  London EC4M 7EH

Send the cheque with a covering letter stating you wish the donation to be allocated specifically for use by the Witness Service at the Central criminal Court, the Old Bailey and the funds will then be allocated for their use only.

Finally, next time you are at the Old Bailey and you find yourself on the 2nd floor about to go into the café spare a thought for the amazing unsung heroes right next door.
Len Hodkin  Len Hodkin is a solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors, and Trustee for Hundred Families Charity.

In Memory of Sally Hodkin

Sally Hodkin worked as the accounts manager for a solicitors practice in Blackheath. She was wife to Paul Hodkin for 38 years, Mum to two sons Len and Ian, and a loving grandmother.