Category Archives: Legal Aid

Duty Solicitors Unite-don’t break the link! Guest Blog by Bev Hockley

Introduction by Greg Foxsmith

Criminal Legal Aid Lawyers of certain experience can apply to become duty solicitors. 

Duty Solicitors can represent people needing legal advice in criminal courts who have not instructed their own solicitors, and do so in rotation via a published rota administered via the Legal Aid Authority. 

The scheme was devised to provide solicitors for clients, not clients for solicitors, but in recent years the rotas became overloaded with providers, many of whom were not actually representing clients, but allowing their slots to be covered by others (sometimes for remuneration). These non-attendees have become known as “ghosts.”

The MoJ and LAA will soon be considering how to allocate duty “slots” when the new rotas are published, and how to tackle ghosts. 

In this blog freelance solicitor Bev Hockley says what she thinks  about long -standing proposals by the  “Big Firms Group*”   to “break the link”  between duty solicitors and the slots allocated to them on the duty rotas. (This proposal would mean that duty slots are allocated not to solicitors, but in blocks to firms.) The following is her answer:-

Ghosts’ have flourished in plain sight as named Duty Solicitors on rotas for years. 

 ‘Breaking the link’ by replacing Duty Solicitors slots in firms names will only serve to perpetuate this problem by providing ‘Ghosts’ with additional protection from detection.

 We have successfully challenged the implementation of Contracting Duty Solicitor work by asserting it would drive down the quality of fundamental front line services at the police station and magistrates court.

 ‘Breaking the link’ would rapidly evaporate this achievement and facilitate every ambition the Contracting proposals set out to accomplish. 

 The prestige of PIN numbers would become meaningless. 

 Every firm would have the tempting opportunity to replace highly experienced DS, employees and consultants alike, with inexperienced bargain-basement representation.

 The provision of quality services can only be preserved by maintaining the link between named and appointed DS on rotas.

 For those representing the profession in current crucial post Contract negotiations, the last bastion of guardianship must be to protect this link with the same tenacity which defeated the ill-fated Contracting proposals. 

Postscript

Keeping the link is important to all duty solicitors, not just freelancers! Solicitors in London who want to contribute to the debate should consider joining the LCCSA, a representative body with a democratically elected committee. In addition, Freelancers may want to attend a meeting for Freelance Solicitors at the Queens Head in Kings Cross on Monday 15th February at 6pm, or contact Theresa Hendrickx by texting  07949243949 for more information on the Freelancers Association mailing list. 

Bev Hockley, 12/02/2016

Bev Hockey trained at Hickman and Rose and has represented clients both as an employee and consultant at the police station and magistrate’s court for nearly 20 years. Bev is currently a consultant with Edward Fail Bradshaw and Waterson

Don’t break the chain



* The Big Firms Group” (or BFG) is an unelected body set up to represent the interests of “big firms” with a Criminal Legal Aid contract. There has been a doubt for some time as to whether they are a unified body and who exactly they speak for. It may only be a small number of firms with other firms historically under the BFG umbrella not wholly in support of recent positions. However, what is clear is that spokespeople for the BFG lobbied the MoJ in support of consolidation (and were supporters of the disastrous “two-tier” contracting) and appear to still be recognised as a “representative body” by the MoJ, despite apparently having no clear mandate or constitution. 

Chris Grayling- the worst Lord Chancellor in history

Who is Chris Grayling?

Born on April Fools Day, Christopher Grayling MP (Conservative MP for Epsom) was the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor from October 2012 to May 2015.  He was the first non-lawyer to have served in that post.

This blog reviews Grayling’s tenure in office as Lord Chancellor.

Introduction and Overview

Overview  here (my TV interview about Grayling, Legal Aid and Magna Carta, via YouTube)

Joshua Rozenberg assessed Grayling’s likely legacy In the Law Society Gazette here (March 2015)

Grayling “just didn’t get it” – article in Gazette here  (November 2015)

Top ten things about which Grayling was wrong and why (Mirror, Nov 14)

Why “Failing Grayling” illustrates the worst aspects of Cameron’sGovernment  (by Nick Cohen in the Spectator, Dec 2014)
2014 review of a year in the life of Christopher Grayling (with links) as reported in the “Tuesday Truth” blog.

EXPENSES (pre-appointment)

Chris Grayling as an MP and certainly as Lord Chancellor purported to want to cut public expenditure. However, when it comes to his own public expenditure, Chris likes to get as much of it as he can. The extent of his guzzling was chronicled in the Telegraph expenses scandal  here (as shadow home secretary h3 claimed thousands of pounds to renovate a flat in central London – bought with a mortgage funded at taxpayers’ expense, even though his constituency home is less than 17 miles from the House of Commons)

Chris neeed a good secretary, so the taxpayer forked out for him to have a secretary (at an eye-watering 40k pa) . Luckily, someone was available for the job- no need to advertise! The ideal candidate? Step forward Mr Graylings wife- susan!

Years later, how Grayling get away with it, and whether he did in fact refund some of the money as he publicly pledged , remain shrouded in mystery (as explained by Ian Dunt in this article, Jan 2017)

Grayling and cuts to criminal legal aid

Grayling had supported, despite overwhelming opposition in the preceding “consultation, a new model for payment of criminal league aid solicitors known as Price Competitive Tendering, which was so flawed even the Mail on Sunday criticised it ( enjoy this  Downfall parody video with Grayling stabbed in back by MoS ) Legal Aid had already been cut to the bone, before Grayling set to work with cuts to all areas of legal aid.

Criminal Lawyers even went on “strike” (January 2014) Grayling did not back down, the LCCSA took legal action, and a year later (under Grayling’s successor) the Government caved in and the scheme was abandoned.

Government guidance in relation to the granting of legal aid for immigration cases was found to be unlawful (Dec 2014)

Meanwhile as more defendants were appearing unrepresented, even Magistrates started commenting on the “threat to Justice”   (full story and my quote in The Independent here) (January 2015) and more detail here (via the Bureau of Investigative Jouralism)

Grayling attracted criticism even on Tory blog  “Conservative Home”- see this demolition of Grayling’s Legal Aid Cuts (“damaging and unfair”,  Feb 2015)

Grayling and cuts to other areas of legal aid

The supposed “safety net” introduced for exceptional cases was revealed in this article  to be a failure (Daily Mirror 28/12/15)

Grayling repeatedly claimed that Legal Aid in the UK is “the most expensive in the World” -an inacuracy also repeated by the MoJ but demolished here

His LASPO Residency test was overturned in July 2016 (see here)

PRISONS CRISIS

Guardian article on rising suicide figures exposing prison crisis, and subsequent letters.

The Independent reports on Grayling callous indifference to rising suicide rate

An insider account of the “Highdown 11” (prison protesters against prison cuts all acquitted)

Lord Ramsbotham speaks out against Grayling over the prison suicide crisis.

Grayling makes Chief Prison Inspector reapply for his job.

Grayling dismisses huge increase in prison suicides as a “blip“.

Grayling’s legacy will be to have left prisons in a worse state than he found them.

After cancelling an effective rehabilitation course, Grayling was described as an “incompetent, short-sighted recidivist” (The Guardian, April 2015)

Grayling was criticised in a parting shot from the outgoing Prison Inspector here (the Indy, Jan 2016)
Prisoner Book Ban

Grayling’s book ban, and and the Howard League’s response

Authors use Chris Grayling as villain in response to the book ban.

“Strange and absurd” -Court Judgement on Grayling and the book ban.

Picture: demo against book ban outside Pentonville prison:


Having lost on his prison- book-ban, Grayling delays implementation and is described as “stealing Christmas“.

A short Video of the book ban demo outside Pentonville prison, March 2014

Grayling and Human Rights

The sad truth is, Grayling doesn’t actually understand Human Rights, and even the Daily Mail had to correct him- see this article.

Grayling’s views on workfare and making employees work for free here (New Statesman 2012)

GRAYLING AND THE MOJ
Man wrongly imprisoned for 17 years persued for costs by MOJ

Under Grayling’s tenure, there were record levels of absenteeism as MoJ staff were sick with stress and mental health issues (as reported here)

Grayling gets MOJ “flogging expertise to Saudi floggers” -selling legal services to Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes. (As set out by David Hencke, Jan 2015)

The MOJ “deal” with the Saudi regime represents a clear conflict of intetest as set out by Jack of Kent in his informative argument. Gove has done his best to extricate the MOJ from Grayling’s toxic legacy -update here.

The commercial arm also managed to make a £1million loss! Detail here
Grayling and Magna Carta

BACKGROUND:- this website has info about Magna Carta, it’s historical significance then and now, why we should celebrate it and how the Government has hypocritically hijacked the anniversary.

Nothing but lip-service, is all we can expect from this Lord Chancellor

Grayling is a hypocrite with his MOJ event to commemorate Magna Carta (argues Peter Oborne) – don’t jump on the bandwagon!

Robin Murray spells out the hypocrisy and called for a boycott of Grayling’s Magna Carta event.

More here on why principled lawyers would not attend.

Frank Magennis in the Justice Gap described this as an unfolding of British Justice (published Feb 2015)

In the 800th anniversary of Magna Carts (see below) a RELAY FOR RIGHTS saw demonstrators walk from Runnymede to Westminster to protest against Christopher Grayling and his preposterous, hypocritical “Great” Legal Summit. This led to a public Impeachment for the man masquerading as Lord Chancellor.
See also this article on Grayling and Magna Carta in the New Statesman (Feb 2015) by Anthony Barnett.

Grayling and the Probation Service

Grayling was accused of no less than murdering the probation service

Grayling’s privatisation has led to job losses and failure (article in the Independent December 2015)

Grayling’s failings revealed Probation reforms deemed a costly disaster by NAO in this scathing report (2019)

Grayling and Judicial Review

JR bill falls apart after grayling admits misleading Commons

The Lord Chancellor lost yet another judicial review in October. This time it was over his decision to make mesothelioma sufferers pay up to 25 per cent of their compensation for legal and insurance costs should they win their case. Giving his judgment in the High Court, Mr Justice Williams said: “No reasonable Lord Chancellor faced with the duty imposed on him by section 48 of the Act would have considered that the exercise in fact carried out fulfilled that duty. This is not a case in which the procedural failure was minor or technical in nature.”

Grayling in his own words

in this article we find out what Grayling thinks , with critical analysis.

Grayling as Lord Chancellor

Former Tory MP, barrister and blogger Jerry Hayes described Grayling as “a shit that has to be flushed after the election”

Matthew Norman, writing in the Independent, (Jan 2015) asks “what in Sanity’s name is Chris Grayling doing in the job of Lord Chancellor?”

Minutes of Grayling’s appearance as Lord Chancellor before the Justice Select Committee here. Note the admission to Jeremy Corbyn that cuts are “ideological” (Q200)

Grayling on Twitter
You can find out more about Mr Grayling by searching #FailingGrayling

Musical Grayling

Check out the chris Grayling playlist

Freedom of Information

Naturally Grayling is not a fan (source:Guido)

Lord Chancellor Grayling In Retrospect

Has there ever been a more incompetent minister than Grayling? Answer in this article in Huffington Post

Unfavourable comparison with his successor here in the Spectator.

Lord Pannick described Grayling’s performance as “notable only for his attempts to restrict judicial reviews and human rights, his failure to protect the judiciary against criticism from his colleagues and the reduction of legal aid to a bare minimum.”

Grayling Brexit

After the May 2015 election, Grayling let it be known that he would be very happy to stay on as Lord Chancellor. He was promptly demoted by Cameron to “Leader of the House”. The New Statesman asked “Is Grayling the most incometent Minister?” (article December 2015) “It’s often said that all political careers end in failure, it just seems that Grayling’s seems to be failing before it has ended…”

For many months we heard nothing about Grayling. Then it emerged he had been granted permission to campaign in favour of Britain leaving the EU in the forthcoming referendum, and he became a self appointed leader of Brexit. Grayling’s support for “out” caused celebrations in the “in ” camp, as Grayling (a “sheep in sheep’s clothing”) proved that he has “yet to discover an argument he has consciously been on the right side of” (read the full sketch by John Crace 14/01/16) However, as we now know, the Country did vote to Brexit, although few have cited Grayling and his support as having been an influential factor in that.

One of his first speeches in the cause showed his “humorous side” as described in this article 50 shades of Grayling (Political sketch by Patrick Kidd, Times, January 2016)

Post MOJ: Grayling as Leader of the House

We didn’t hear much of or about Grayling after his demotion from Lord Chancellor, other than his legacy being unravelled and overturned by his successor, and his Brexit campaign (above). However, never one to be on the right side of an argument, he  sought to with-hold details of MPs dodgey expenses and arrests (as outlined here in the Daily Mirror (Feb 2016)

From Jail to Rail: Grayling as Transport Secretary

Grayling was appointed transport secretary in Theresa May’s new cabinet (July 2016)

Two weeks later there were 16 hour delays in traffic jams leading to Dover…

He combined his newfound interest in Brexiting and Transport with an important intervention in Public Life-railway platforms. Mr Grayling is however wrong even about the Brexit dividend to station platforms as explained here

Meanwhile, as controversy mounts over heathrow expansion and HS2, Chris struggles to find any relief for the long-suffering commuters reliant on failing Southern Rail. He is then “offered a new job by a Village without an idiot”, according the satirical website NewsThump here

in December 2016 there are calls for his resignation even from Tory MPs (see this BBC News item)

In 2017 Grayling supported Heathrow expansion, and Monarch Airways went bust.

In October 2017 Grayling attending the launch of the new hybrid train between Bristol and London. A service that not only arrived into Paddington 45 minutes late after the train broke down while switching from diesel to electricity, but whose air conditioning had failed, drenching dozens of passengers with water.

As for Brexit, he says that everything will be fine because “British farmers will grow more”, a comment so facile it is beautifully eviscerated in this must-read demolition of Grayling’s ignorance  which describes him as “the wilfully ignorant, insouciantly callous former Justice Secretary who took a sledgehammer to the legal aid and prison systems” (independent)

He also appeared before the Transport Select Committee, in a shambolic performance that was beautifully captured in this sketch  (worth reading in full- concludes with “while there was a refreshing honesty to his incompetence, there really didn’t seem to be any part of his brief that Grayling fully grasped. He was dangerously deluded about what had gone on on his watch and complacent about the here and now

Grayling’s short tenure as Conservative party chair

On 08 January 2018 in Theresa May’s botched cabinet re-shuffle, Conservative HQ tweeted congratulations to Grayling on a post that he had not in fact been given, as described here https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/chris-grayling-named-as-new-tory-party-chairman-in-now-deleted-tweet-in-cabinet-reshuffle-blunder-a3734531.html

That it took nearly half a minute to realise the mistake was a surprise: most people don’t need nearly that much time to work out that Grayling is invariably the wrong person for any job.

More transport shambles

Grayling was trending again on twitter (and not in a good way) in June 2018 after ongoing train cancellations and timetable shambles. Chris was supposed to meet MPs but had to cancel some meetings after he didn’t timetable them properly (I’m not making this up) and then gave a statement in the house where he said that those responsible should resign.

“It’s completely unacceptable to have someone operationally in control and not taking responsibility,” Failing Grayling declared hysterically. At that moment, satire died. (Full sketch by John Grace here, and here is a further extract: If you were writing a new series of The Thick of It, you’d hesitate to create a character like Chris Grayling for fear no one would believe in him. Even in the current cabinet, a confederacy of dunces where the sole qualifications for membership are being a bit dim and entirely incompetent, the transport secretary is a class apart.

To say that Failing Grayling has more than his fair share of bad days is a category error. Because that implies he has the occasional good one. He doesn’t. Every day is a desperate, losing struggle against the chaos caused by his own hopelessness. But even for a man who has turned his failure into a monumental work of performance art, Monday hit a new low. Or, as Grayling might see it, a total triumph. The moment he formally achieved the coveted status of the idiot’s idiot.

The Times has this to say

Chris Grayling used the publicly owned French railway as an example of how bad a UK nationalised railway would be…yet we pay the French rail to run private UK services and UK fares can be 4x more expensive for similar journeys.

A Poem for Michael Gove

He seems like a jolly old cove 

In his robes of black and mauve

But now, we fear

He wants justice “two-tier” 

All hail Lord Chancellor Gove!

Despite school-boy features

Gove bullied the teachers

Now lawyers are vexed

As Justice is next



Much lamentation and wailing
Under Christopher Grayling

And his budgetary raid 

on Legal Aid

But now, Hand in Gove! 

The sun shining out of his behind

No he’s not like any other Tory,

Gove tells a different story

Is he as bad as he looks?

He has at least restored prisoners books…

But as for Human Rights

He wants to turn out the lights.
An image of Gove to serve as his totem?

That of a bullfrog escaping a scrotum*
#NationalPoetryDay 

*with thanks for the description to Frankie Boyle, in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/01/david-cameron-moriarty-downing-street-radical-thatcher

  

Community Advice Offer extended to More Courts

Guest blog by Joanne Thomas  (see author note below)

Introduction: “People in Court sometimes need more advice than just legal advice

Many of the people who come through magistrates’ court commit low-level offences and go on to commit them again and again without the underlying causes being tackled. Typically, the seriousness of offences means they receive fines or conditional discharges and therefore no support from statutory agencies. But very often they end up returning to court – 40% of fines go unpaid and a third of people receiving a conditional discharge reoffend within a year.

The South West model

In South West England, action is taken to stop this revolving door via CASS (http://cassplus.org/). CASS is a service that has been running for almost ten years and provides support to people coming to court in Plymouth, Truro and Bodmin. It is open to anyone – defendants, but also victims, witnesses and family members. There are very few limits on the kind of help that the service will provide. While there are some mainstays – namely drug and alcohol treatment referrals, information about community mental health care, practical support with debts or benefits – CASS has helped clients across with a huge range of issues. See our recent evaluation of this service here

The Community Advice Service at Highbury

Inspired by this work, we at the Centre for Justice Innovation worked with partners from the North London Local Justice Area over 18 months to see whether we could set up something similar at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court. The result is the Community Advice service, which has been delivered by RCJ Advice Bureau (http://www.rcjadvice.org.uk/) from the court since January 2015. Attending court can be confusing and intimidating, so the service works to identify those in need of immediate help, engaging the majority through proactive targeting in court rooms and public areas, as well as receiving referrals from solicitors, court staff and probation. The people seen present with a range of difficulties, with the most common being housing, benefits and debt, and mental health.  

Community Advice is currently delivered by a paid coordinator and team of CAB-trained volunteers. It provides immediate help and advice with practical issues such as benefit claims, debt and housing, as well as offering emotional support. It also helps people find out about and access long-term support services in the community such as alcohol treatment, mental health services and supported housing.

But most importantly of all, the service needs to know if it is making a difference to those using it. The team follows up with everyone who agrees to this for up to six months to check on their progress and see if they need any more support. The outcomes being reported are very positive, with 60% of people contacted at six months saying their issues have been resolved. Additionally, at two weeks, a third reported their issues were either resolved or better, rising to almost two thirds two months after using the service. A third of people using the service had visited the referrals that had been made by the service after two weeks, and this increased to 80% by two months. The majority of people at all stages of follow-up reported a high levels of helpfulness from the services to which they had been referred.  


Could More be Done?

With such positive outcomes, the question remains as to why this kind of service is not more prevalent. Pulling together the right partners and identifying funding can be challenging, but tackling the underlying problems that lead people to commit crime not only helps the individual but can also help the criminal justice system to meet its aims as well as being better for society overall. 

Conclusion

We remain keen to identify and work with other courts to recognise the benefits of services such as this and where appropriate to develop similar initiatives that respond to the needs of the people who continue to come through their courts time and again. 

The author

Joanne Thomas is Innovative Practice Manager at the Centre for Justice Innovation, a research and development charity which works towards a British justice system that reduces crime and in which all of our people can place their trust.

  
 

Prison Books: Helping to Turn over a New leaf

The decision earlier this year by Justice Secretary Michael Gove to lift the ban on family and friends sending books to prisoners was welcome

Anybody who describes prison as a “holiday camp” has either never been to prison, or never been on holiday- the reality of contemporary incarceration is boredom from enforced idleness, interspersed with occasional violence (assaults are rife) but little support for rehabilitation programmes or tackling prevalent issues of mental health. Cuts to staffing levels have overlapped with a rapidly rising prison population. Recent reports by the Prison Inspectorate have been damming.

Books do not in themselves provide a panacea, but they are a good start. They provide education, help literacy and personal development, and broaden the mind.

The book ban introduced by Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling was a vindictive, unjustified act.

The purpose of prison is punishment and rehabilitation- the first is implicit in the removal of liberty by being locked up, the second currently not achieved by draconian policies that fail to tackle the root causes of offending behaviour. In Nelson Mandela’s moving autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom”, he writes of the value and importance of books to him through his long period of imprisonment. Everyone but Grayling could see the value of books within prison.

In March last year I joined a demonstration against the book ban outside Pentonville prison organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform, and supported by authors including the Poet Laureate. See a short video clip here.

The reversal came initially as a result of a successful Judicial Review brought by solicitor Samuel Genen and counsel (all acting pro-bono) -read more about that here. The High Court ruled the policy was unlawful. Gove then confirmed in July the complete relaxation of the unfair and arbitrary rules Grayling introduced. That is a victory- unlawful policies do not always lead to policy reversal -look at the vexed issue of prisoner voting.

Now we no longer have a book ban, and we now longer have Grayling despoiling the office of Lord Chancellor. So what of his successor?

Gove has said that “the most useful thing we can do is make sure prisoners are usefully employed, and improve literacy, numeracy and work skills”. Will he act or are these just “words”?

I would suggest the most useful thing Gove could do would be to reduce the prison population by crime prevention and successful rehabilitation, and reducing the numbers imprisoned for pointless short sentences for non-violent crime.  This in turn would save money, which could be redeployed to properly fund the Justice system. Government cuts to Legal aid have put our Justice system at risk. The spending cuts were ideological, deferring costs elsewhere in the system.

Grayling was a wrecker, who for what he hoped would gain him short term popularity damaged both the Criminal Justice system and an effective penal system.

Gove has a long way to go to fix these problems, but reversing the book ban was a good start.

Published on International Literacy Day, 08 september 2015

An earlier version of this article was published here in the Islington Tribune in July this year

Pledge For Justice

The following pledge can be signed by any PPC in the 2016 Election if they care about Justice and support Legal Aid

LEGAL AID PLEDGE  For a just and fair society 

The most recent You-Gov poll on access to justice found that 84% of people said legal aid and a fair trial were fundamental rights. I agree!

If elected as an MP I pledge that :- 

1.    I will seek to ensure that the principle of access to justice for all will be upheld and protected

2.     I will ensure that the integrity of an independent justice system is maintained and promoted

3.    I will not support any further cuts to the legal aid budget in the next Parliament

4.    I will support a review of access to justice within the first year of a new parliament to consider the effect of cumulative cuts and changes to legal aid funding.

Signed:-

Name:-

Constituency


Notes

1 The Vote For Justice campaign was first organised by the LCCSA, for the 2015 election, and backed by Justice Campaigners and Legal Aid Supporters. It is non-Party Political, but campaigners will actively promote candidates of any party who sign (for example in Haringey at the last election, we supported Catherine West who signed the pledge, unseating incumbent Lynne Featherstone who did not)

2 See Here for covering letter inviting PPCs to sign the Justice Pledge.

 

#WriteAPoemAboutTories

Twitter- sized poems about justice for #NationalPoetryDay:-

I want to set on fire
Grayling the mendacious liar
He cut legal aid
For the low paid
While his expenses got ever higher

Tories ban Human Rights
They are despicable shites
Time for you and me
To leave UK PLC
Will the last 1 please turn out the lights?

It’s harder than it looks
Being tough on crooks
But poor Chris grayling
Was certainly failing
In banning prisoners books

Its hard I must confess
to compose a poem in 140 or less
Christopher Grayling
rhymes with Failing
and to be perfectly blunt
he’s a bit of a

Unrepresented Defendants (guest blog by Penelope Gibbs)

This blog is by Penelope Gibbs of TRANSFORM JUSTICE

Transform Justice was set up in 2012 by Penelope Gibbs, a former magistrate who had worked (successfully) to reduce child and youth imprisonment in the UK. The charity aims to help create a better justice system in the UK.

Please complete the survey at end of article, and forward to other practitioners
The mysterious increase in defendants without lawyers in the criminal courts 
People are slightly mystified why numbers of unrepresented litigants in the criminal courts seem to be rising.  Everyone expects numbers to rise steeply if the government succeeds in bringing in proposed changes to the way legal aid lawyers are paid.  Then there are likely to be legal aid deserts where no solicitor is willing to work for legal aid rates. But numbers have already started to rise according to a survey from the Magistrates’ Association (http://www.magistrates-association.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/01-Survey-on-litigants-in-person-and-unrepresented-defendants-13-January-2015.pdf).  This suggested one in five of those in 1st listed bail, “Narey”, courts were unrepresented, as were 14% of those on bail hearings, 23% of those being sentenced and 22% of those in criminal trials.  If scaled up countrywide, these would represent thousands of defendants.  No-one knows why these defendants are unrepresented since the criteria for legal aid have not changed for several years. Some people may be ineligible for legal aid either because their crime is serious enough, or because they do not meet the, quite low, means test. But Transform Justice is looking for more information about those struggling to defend themselves in the criminal courts. If you are a criminal solicitor or barrister, or someone who works in the courts in another capacity, please fill in this short survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WBJ3VVY

Grayling Day- the Save Legal Aid Demo 07/03/14

The demonstration on 07 March 2014 in support of Legal Aid in Old Palace Yard, Westminster (outside Houses of Parliament) was possibly the largest gathering of protesting Legal Aid Criminal Lawyers and Supporters ever assembled, and became known as “Grayling Day”, after the man responsible for the cuts, MP Chris Grayling.

The demo raised the profile of the fight against Legal aid cuts. Guardian report here

Legal Aid Playlist here.   Highlights in this short film on YouTube

The Fight to Save Legal Aid

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling (a butcher posturing as Lord Chancellor) introduced further cuts to Legal Aid which threatened to destroy the ability of firms or individual lawyers to properly represent clients if reliant on legal aid.
The demo was not about Lawyers livelihoods. This was about equal access to justice for all, not just those who can afford to pay privately. No action was taken to stop wealthy defendants getting Legal Aid because their assets are “restrained” so they can’t use them to pay legal fees (as Martin Bentham  pointed out here)
I had the privilege of compering the demo, organised by LCCSA and the Justice Alliance, supported by revolting lawyers, inspirational speakers, MPs, and an effigy of Grayling. Many Legal Aid Lawyers were not working on the first ever full “strike” (day of action.) Concerns about the justice system were the theme. (BBC coverage here)

A full list of speakers with a summary of their contributions HERE.

I had previously blogged about a Legal Aid day of action in the New Year, (January 2014) but this demo was the first ever full-day National day of Action (aka a strike) by Criminal Lawyers.

20140301-091255.jpg

Footnote

Sadly, a year later the fight was ongoing, and we were back again.

We  kept fighting until Grayling had his day. Chris Grayling was demoted after the election, and replaced by Michael Gove,, who was in turn replaced by Liz Truss and two further changes.

Now, with disclosure issues, further funding problems, and a prison crisis, perhaps it is time to once more gear up to fight, campaign, demonstrate and if necessary take action once again.

Not Magna Carta: Grayling’s Legal Summit

2015 marked the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, where we should have celebrated the cherished ideals of Equality before the Law, right to a jury trial, and the principle that  Justice should not be for sale. Instead, the Government, with it’s legally illiterate Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, held (on February 23rd) an invite only “Legal Summit” with tickets priced at £1500 per head.
It has been said , “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.” (Anatole France, see here for more on equality before the law)
But only the rich could afford to attend Grayling’s fat-cat jamboree, hypocritically masquerading as a Magna Carta celebration. Some invited to speak chose to boycott the event.
Many with integrity indicated their opposition, and set out why as recoreded in this blog

I attended the alternative “Not the Great Law Summit”  protest, demonstrating outside the official event. A write-up is here in the Justice Gap.

Speakers included  Maxine Peake (Pictured below), Debora Coles from Inquest,  Marcia Rigg, Karl Turner MP, Andy Worthington and  Jon Black (President of LCCSA)


There was an impeachment hearing for “King John” Christopher Grayling. 

There was also a walk from Runnymede to Westminster over the weekend of 21st-23rd February (“Relay for Rights“)

 

Anyone who would like to learn more about the issues raised in this blog, may like to look at the website of the Justice Alliance www.justiceallianceuk.wordpress.com
You can also catch up on events as they happened on Twitter using hashtags  #RelayforRights and #NotGLS2015

Notes

1 Check out this excellent article in the New Statesman by Anthony Barnett (founding editor of Open Democracy) who spoke at the start of the March at Runnymede, and joined the walk and demo. 

2 This Article in the Islington Tribune features Ruth Hayes of Islington Law Centre, who also spoke at the Runnymeade gathering and joined both walk and demo. My letter in the same paper is here