Category Archives: Civil Rights

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.

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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

 

The Impeachment of “King John” Christopher Grayling

0n 21st February 2015 the Justice Alliance met in Runnymede and set out for Westminster as part of a JA event called Relay for Rights.

This finished on 23rd February with the “NOT THE GREAT LEGAL SUMMIT” In Westminster.

This was organised as a direct response to the hypocritical “Great” Legal Summit, which in the name of Magna Carta, was being used to promote the kind of law that in fact has no resemblance to the principles still celebrated from that historic document.

At the alternative event, on the inspiration of Justice Alliance member Rhona Friedman, I was asked to seek impeachment of the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling by asking the assembled crowd to vote on “articles of impeachment” .

The Articles put to the crowd, and their responses, are recorded below:-

 

                                                 ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT 

 

                                    The People

                                      V

                     King John Christopher Grayling”

 

SummaryOne Resolution consisting of four articles of impeachment. 

The articles will be debated and voted on individually

 

Introduction

 

The original King John  had ruled using the principle of “force and will”, taking executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions, justified on the basis that a king was above the law.

800 years later, Chris Grayling, a man posturing as Lord Chancellor, takes executive and arbitrary decisions, and by seeking to remove the rights to Judicial Review attempts to place himself above the Law. 

Article 1   MISLEADING PARLIAMENT AND THE PEOPLE

 

As Secretary of State, King John Christopher Grayling provided false and misleading evidence to the House of Commons regarding Judicial Review Reform, having either knowingly lied in order to try to get his bill past the Commons or fundamentally misunderstanding his own legislation.

 

The Secretary of State further provided false and misleading evidence to the Commons about probation privatisation projects in that G4S and Serco confirmed they had been granted new government work during a period when Grayling had told MPs that contracts would not be awarded   Remember SERCO are the robber barons who claimed for supervising the dead!  

 

TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS MISLED THE COMMONS AND THE PEOPLE?

 The People voted AYE 

 

 Article 2       OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE 

 

The Secretary of State has obstructed and diminished Justice by :

 

Reducing the number of people who took mental health cases from 42,000 to 523 in one year 

 

-Removing legal aid from family cases so that 2/3 of people face court alone 

 

Pricing peoplout of Employment Tribunals so that unfair employees know that they can sack their staff unlawfully 

 

Banning books in prisons until Court Action forced  him to stop 

 

Creating a two tier criminal justice

 

 TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS OBSTRUCTED JUSTICE?

The people voted AYE 

 


 

 Article 3       ABUSE OF POWER

 

The Secretary of State misused and abused his office and impaired the administration of justice, in that

 

1. He forced through a privatisation of  Probation Service with no proper impact-assessment and at great risk
2. He has brought the Ministry of Justice into disrepute by “Flogging to the floggers” (contracting with the selling of legal services to Saudi Arabia, which has despotic judicial and barbaric punishment systems)
3. Whilst holding the title of Justice Secretary, he has practiced,supported and embodied INJUSTICE, and has been defeated repeatedly in the Courts.

 

TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS ABUSED THE POWER VESTED IN HIM?

The people voted AYE

 

ARTICLE FOUR -ABUSE OF OATH OF OFFICE

 

AS Lord Chancellor King John Grayling is charged with upholding the Rule of Law  We the people have by the above articles found him guilty of misleading Parliament , obstructing justice and abuse of power.

 Do you the people therefore think he has properly discharged his constitutional duty in accordance with his oath of office to ensure the provision of services  for the efficient and effective support of the courts?

 TO THIS ARTICLE DO YOU THE PEOPLE FIND THAT KING JOHN CHRISTOPHER GRAYLING HAS ABUSED HIS OATH OF OFFICE-HOW SAY YOU, AYE OR NO?

The People voted AYE

Lastly do we the people on this fake anniversary of the Great Charter find him to be an Upholder OF THE RULE OF LAW?  AYE OR NO ? 

The People voted No

  

KING JOHN GRAYLING WAS DULY IMPEACHED- SO SAID WE ALL!

He was then conveyed, in stocks, amidst a jeering crowd,  to the “Great Legal Summit” , wherapon the Crowd did chant “Failing Grayling -out, out, out!”

But alas, he stayed in, and the will of the people once again was overborne.

800 years after it was sealed, people still remember the Magna Carta.

Grayling, if recalled in history at all, will be remembered about as fondly as his medieval predessor, the hated King John.


 

 

 

Grayling Day Demo -Speakers for Justice

The following speakers spoke up for Justice at The Grayling Day demo in Westminster on 07/03/14

1 Paul Harris
A former president of LCCSA, Paul opened the proceedings with a rousing address. He said the cuts would result in a two-tier system – one for those with money and one for those without.
2 Alistair Webster QC
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A Lib Dem peer but speaking as a lawyer he reminded us of their Party Policy of supporting Legal aid, but commented adversely on their failure in government to speak out against Grayling’s cuts, concluding “The politicians may have failed Justice. We will not.”

3 Laura Janes
Laura, representing The Howard League for Penal Reform dealt with how Chris Grayling has removed most prison law work from criminal legal aid.
4 Sir Ivan Lawrence QC
Sir Ivan (criminal barrister for over 50 years, and was a Tory MP for over 20 years) said he was ashamed of this Government. “We will bring the Criminal justice system to a halt to save it- that’s why we are here
5 Ian Lawrence (NAPO)
Representing the Probation Service, also under attack by Grayling,

6 Paddy Hill

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Paddy reminded us what is at stake. “There will be many more miscarriages of Justice like the Birmingham 6 if legal aid is cut to this level.” An article about Paddy’s speech, with a clip in which he brands the MOJ the “Ministry of Injustice” is here.

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7 Sir Anthony Hooper
Retired Court of Appeal Judge, Sir Anthony reminded us  eloquently:-“For some 60 years everyone has had the right to equal access to Justice. This Government is destroying that right”
8 Francis Neckles
Francis was rightly acquitted at trial, preserving his good character, thanks to good representation by his Legal Aid lawyer. “Chris Grayling says he can’t afford to fund legal aid- Francis Neckles says we can’t afford NOT to
9 Shami Chakrabarti

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Representing Liberty, Chakrabarti made a powerful speech linking Legal Aid with freedom.

10 Dave Rowntree
Dave is drummer with Blur and was also a solicitor with Kingsley Napley.
He spoke about the Magna Carta, which was signed 800 years ago next year, and clause 40 – “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
11 Nigel Lithman QC
Representing the CBA, he had been invited to speak to demonstrate the unity between bar and solicitors in fighting the cuts. Three weeks later, Lithman struck a “deal ” with the MoJ, having met them secretly and without solicitors representatives being consulted. He was subsequently been appointed a Circuit  Judge. Relations between the criminal bar and solicitors reached an all-time low point following Lithman’s actions, but have improved enormously under subsequent and present CBA leadership.
12 Janis Sharp
Janis is Mum to Gary McKinnon, and led a courageous (and ultimately successful) fight against his extradition. She knows the value of legal aid, and  can be seen in the YouTube film below (incorrectly subtitled as Janis McKinnon- apologies Janis)
13 Bill Waddington
Bill was chair of CLSA, and after a two year gap is back as chair, continuing the fight.
14 Noela Claye
Speaking with the support of the charity Women against Rape WAR, Noela brought a victims perspective, and showed that ultimately this demo was not just about fees or careers, it was also about victims, clients, and justice.
Noela spoke on camera in the short film of the start of the demo (link below)

Hanna Evans
Hanna was a new tenant and rising star at 23 Essex St. Chambers. Read more (and hear her speech) at #Just4Justice demo here.
15 Sadiq Khan
A former lawyer in a legal aid practice,  Labour MP and shadow Lord Chancellor (as he then was) said he opposed Grayling’s cuts. When asked  to give an unequivocal commitment to reverse them if in office however he declined. In the run-up to the election campaign, he  combined his portfolio responsibility with the role of Labour lead for attacking the Green Party (who had made a commitment  to restore legal aid funding) and left the justice portfolio in favour of visits to Brighton rallying the Labour troops in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Green MP Caroline Lucas. After the election, he successfully campaigned for London Mayor.
16 Matt Foot
Matt, one of the founder members of the Justice alliance summed up the rally, before leading a march to the Ministry of (In)Justice.

NOTES

Short summary of the event by film-maker Ed Stradling with speaker clips here on Youtube

Another short film of the start of the demo here (Thanks to Matt Tiller)

Excellent commentary and photos of “Grayling Day” here (courtesy of Legal Aid Watch)

Photos of demo, all speakers, thanks to Luca Nieve, here

Legal Aid Protest- lawyers on strike!

I was not representing anyone on January 6th this year.
Together with fellow legal aid lawyers, we were MAKING A STAND

What happened on 6th January?

There was this protest against legal aid cuts in the morning outside Westminster Court organised by the Justice Alliance.
This was a public demo, well attended despite the weather, to show support for legal aid and against Grayling’s proposed cuts.
I was stewarding a “training session” for lawyers, at Islington Town Hall (from 1115) organised by the LCCSA
It all started to feel a bit like a strike!
The protest was billed as a strike in the Daily Mirror
This had never happened before, and shows the MOJ is in a right old mess reported the Telegraph
The guardian also reported on the action
but was this just the usual stuff from fat cat lawyers?
The reality of life for the majority of legal aid lawyers is far, far removed from the distortions regularly reported in the popular media. What is dispiriting is that selective and misleading quotes and stats are routinely deployed by the MOJ to re-in force the stereotype.
Check out the Legal Aid MythBuster here
The point of the demo was to help make people aware that if this Government continues with these cuts, It will lead to the collapse of proper publicly funded defence, and innocent people will be either unrepresented or poorly represented, with bitter consequences for Justice and Society.
A report on the Days events in Islington is here

legal Aid playlist here

Catch up on twitter comments #fight4legalaid and/or #walkout4justice

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The Death of Imran Douglas:- A Suicide in Custody is no Cause for Celebration

In some parts of Morocco, after a funeral the family gather and share a meal of couscous, the legend being that each grain eaten atones for a sin during the life-time of the deceased. This week I joined a family for couscous (picture below) to mark the passing of 18 year old Imran Douglas who sadly killed himself in Belmarsh prison. Imran was British born, his maternal Grandmother from Morocco.
You might think that an awful lot of couscous would need to be eaten to atone for the sins of young Imran, who had brutally murdered a pensioner in her own home.
Imran, who had (unusually in a murder case) pleaded guilty for the crime committed when he was just 17, had been sentenced to a period longer than his age (a minimum term of 18 years), and sent to high security Belmarsh prison (until very recently he would have been detained in a Young Offenders Institution until he reached 21).
Less than a week later he was dead, having apparently ended his own life.
It will take years for an Inquest to establish if that is right, or whether there was foul play (or as previously seen at Belmarsh, excessive restraint)

Few will shed tears or care about his demise, the memory of his horrific crime being fresh in the mind, having been vividly reported at the time, again at his sentence, and now once again on the news of his own death (the circumstances of which appearing to attract little curiosity).
Indeed his passing appears to be celebrated by those who feel the need to express a view at all, commentary being summarised as “he got what he deserved, prison too good for him” etc.
Yet watching the small gathering of family and friends who cared for or about Imran, one is reminded that he leaves behind his own family, including mother, sister, grandparents, and although they never condoned or tried to justify his terrible homicide they too have the same grief and feel the same loss as anyone bereaved.
And perhaps our collective conscience should be pricked just sufficiently to remind ourselves that he was still a teenager,that he was in the institutionalised care of the State, and that by allowing him to hang himself he was failed by the State. As many have been before. (About 50 prisoners AGED 21 OR YOUNGER IN THE LAST SIX YEARS ALONE)
There will be many more deaths by suicide of vulnerable young people held in adult prisons, if proposals currently being consulted on by Government are implemented, as the Howard League argue powerfully here

At least Imran Douglas acknowledged his responsibility by pleading guilty to his crime. It is a safe bet that nobody will admit responsibility for his death, and very unlikely that anyone will be found responsible.
And the fact that nobody (other than his grieving relatives) care, allows this culpable negligence to continue year after year, which should be a matter of shame. How we treat prisoners is a mark of our society, as Winston Churchill amongst others acknowledged. So even those who won’t shed tears at the passing of a convicted murderer should still ask:-
Is it right that someone so young was serving his sentence in an adult prison?
Was he assessed as a suicide risk, and if not why not?
Alternatively, if an acknowledged risk, how was it apparently so easy for him to take his life?
Will the Inquest uncover any facts or (as Imran’s family hope) help prevent further suicides of young people? (There are reportedly eight outstanding inquests into deaths in Belmarsh

And in the unlikely event that anyone had the time or inclination to look at why this young man ended up committing his crime in the first place, they could start by looking at the incident in April 2012 ago where he was hit by a speeding car, and put into a coma on life-support with severe neurological damage. Although no angel before, this was a life-changing incident, and when he came through his demeanour and personality had changed beyond recognition.
Whether he then received the after care from occupational health and/or medical authorities is not clear, and may be out of the remit of the inquest into his death.
The car that hit him? That was a police vehicle. No charges brought in respect of that. But that incident isn’t something you will have read about in the media reports about his death, as it doesn’t sit comfortably with the simple “evil murderer” narrative that allows us to share a feeling of revulsion and moral superiority.
His family, at the wake in their small East London flat, know there was more to Imran than just the one awful crime for which he will be infamously remembered. And they have never stopped thinking about the consequences of that hideous crime, or feeling compassion and sympathy for the family of Margery Gilbey, along with guilt that it was Imran who was responsible.
Nothing in this article should be considered as trying to justify that crime, but it is important that we at least try and understand it. And we can and should as a society deplore that murder, but it is not necessary as a corollary of that to celebrate the death by self-harm of the murderer. A suicide of a young person should always be a cause for concern, not a cause for celebration.
Nothing can now bring back the victim of Imran Douglas’ crime, but at least justice was done when Imran pleaded guilty and was sentenced.
It is unlikely that there will be any justice for Imran’s family, who have lost their son and been treated with indifference or outright contempt. And to our shame, few will care.

NOTES

1 BELMARSH prison have confirmed that 18 year old Imran Douglas (detained at age 17) died in custody at the prison on 13 November 2013.
2 The cause of death is said to be suicide, although an inquest will take place to confirm the cause.
3 Police attended the prison and stated there were no suspicious circumstances.
4 Imran’s mother Carla heard the news informally via a third party the following day, but could not get official conformation of her son’s death for over 48 hours. She was in shock and taken to hospital, the prison initially refused to confirm where the body was taken.
5 Imran Douglas was buried following a service at East London mosque on 18 November. It was on the day of his funeral that the Daily Mail reported on his death and readers posted their gloating comments.
6 Imran’s family will be asking for help from Inquest, the charity providing free advice to bereaved people facing an inquest, with a focus on deaths in custody. They work for truth, justice and accountability for families and for policy change at the highest level.
7 This article/blog is written in a personal capacity, with the support of Imran’s mother Carla. 

Imran’s mother said “I am heartbroken. It was hard enough coming to terms with the fact that he had committed a serious crime, and had such a long sentence, but now he has gone for ever. How is it that the prison service can let this happen? “

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One of the more moronic comments following the Mail article was one that claimed “you can tell from his photo he was born evil”.
I disagree- in the charge photo, cloaked in a blue police custody blanket, he looks to me young and frightened.
He was not born evil- and his family will remember the happy times shared together, although they cannot forget his crime, or stop thinking about how desperate, sad guilty and frightened he must have been when he took his own life.
With permission of Carla, I include above a photo of Imran as they will try and remember him.
I hope their questions are eventually answered.

In Defence of Rights

Have a listen to a Human Rights playlist here
There are totalitarian States where people’s rights are severely restricted if recognised at all, and there are Countries which acknowledge and allow basic freedoms. Which type of State would you prefer to reside in?
In most European Countries our rights are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
It is strange then that the “human rights” have become vilified and derided, by popular media and some politicians. So effective has the drip-drip of poisonous anti-Human rights propaganda been, that many people now think of “Human Rights” in a negative way, and Human Rights have bome a political football.   

The Human Rights Act

Rather than applicants having to exhaust domestic remedies and then petition Stasbourg, the 1997 Human Rights Act incorporated convention rights into UK law. It was a sensible piece of legislation, and although we should give credit to Labour for its introduction there was some cross-party support at the time.

Labour continue to support the Human Rights Act as do the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, but the Tory Leadership toys with the abolition of the Act, and even withdrawal from the ECHR, talking instead of a “British” Bill of Rights.
It infuriates some when rights are invoked by undesirable types, eg prisoners (limited right in certain circumstances to vote) or “criminals” (often including those accused of but not convicted of crime)
 Tory Home Secretary Theresa May recently said those that support The ECHR care “more about criminals than the rest of us”
That is a pernicious and entirely false argument. Supporters of rights consider them universal, equally applicable to all. Anyone accused of a criminal offence has a right to a fair trial, whether guilty or innocent (falsely accused). Ironically, under the HRA victim rights have developed faster than defendant rights, making the Act more of a Victims charter than the Villains Charter it is often mis-named.
Although we all enjoy protected rights, many of us never have them infringed. It is those on the margins- stateless, homeless, mentally ill, prisoners, the really vulnerable who most frequently have rights infringed or ignored (acknowledged by Lord Bingham in his acclaimed speech to Liberty. ) These groups are not a politically popular constituency. But rights belong to us all, or none of us. In taking away rights(or the ability to enforce them) from marginalised groups, we lose them ourselves, and may only realise their true worth when it is too late.
Theresa May promised to scrap the Human Rights Act, notwithstanding the fact that the European Court of Human Rights was championed by Winston Churchill, and designed after the horrors of WW2 to protect individual rights and freedoms from tyranny. Those rights have not changed, and once they are gone it’s not just “immigrants and criminals” who lose them- we all do. These include your right to privacy, to freedom of expression, family life and right to a fair trial. Which of those would you want to lose?
In fact, human rights reflect values of fairness and tolerance which are considered to be British values (and virtues) by some of those who denigrate the HRA.
There have been many good uses of human rights legislation of which we should all be proud, as pointed out by Amnesty International here.

Now as Cameron and Co. continue planning to replace the HRA with a “Bill of Rights” (a proposal described by Liberty as legally illiterate”) championed by  Chris Grayling

I call on everyone to oppose these proposals, and support Human Rights.

  
As the great Bob Marley said “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights” (full lyrics here)

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Supporting Reprieve-London to Brighton Cycle ride

Why I resigned from Lib Dems and why I cycled to Brighton for Reprieve

As a believer in open justice, I fundamentally opposed the Crime and Security Bill which earlier this year introduced secret courts
I resigned my membership of the Liberal Democrat Party over their Parliamentary support for the bill, having campaigned against it within the Party and at their Conference.(speech here)
During the campaign, I was struck by the excellent campaigning work on this issue by Reprieve, a charity I have long admired for excellent campaigns on justice and death-row cases.
I have therefore decided to attempt the London to Brighton Cycle race on September 8th to raise money for Reprieve. Please support the excellent work of Reprieve
Link to sponsorship page here
Islington gazette article here

UPDATE I finished the race (75 miles including my return cycle to start in Clapham) and would like to thank everyone for their support and sponsorship

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