Category Archives: Politics

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.


 

 

 

Decision not to seek Re-Election

I was first elected as a Councillor for Hillrise Ward in Islington in 2006, and re-elected in 2010. During my eight year tenure, Arsenal have failed to win a single trophy. These things may be connected.
Now Arsenal stand on the brink of winning the FA cup.
My course of action is clear.
To avoid another four trophy-less years, I will not re-stand.
Tribune article here.
In Addition:-
1 In 2006 and 2010 the Conservatives were trounced in Hillrise. This year, they are fielding NO candidates! My work here is done.
2 I always said I would only serve a maximum two terms. I fulfil that promise. In fact, I think all Councillors should serve a maximum two terms. There are two many tired old faces, entrenched in the Town Hall bubble, with seemingly no life or interests outside politics. New candidates with fresh ideas are surely preferable to careerist politicians becoming increasingly dependant on their allowances, and surviving by patronage in servile demonstrations of Party loyalty.
3 I would like to pay tribute to my fellow ward Councillor Lorraine Constantinou, who has been an outstanding, hard-working Councillor.
4 I was elected as a Lib Dem Cllr, but became Islington’s only Independent Councillor after resigning from the Lib Dems over the National Party support for Secret Courts.
And Finally….
I would like to thank everyone who entrusted me with their vote, and particularly those who campaigned, done-knocked and delivered with me in two elections. Also to my former Hillrise colleagues Fiona Dunlop and Julia Williams, current Cllrs Lorraine and Marian and the excellent MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn.
And not forgetting Donna Boffa (RIP)
I also acknowledge the massive support from Council Officers, who of course do all the hard work for which Councillors take credit.
And (yes I know this is worse than an Oscar speech) to my family, who at times I saw less of than I would have liked.

Below:-Hillrise Councillors 2006. I still had hair when I was first elected!

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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

Late Night Levy Madness

The streets of Islington are, according to Islington Labour, rife with violent drunks after the midnight hour, and thus they have rushed to be the first London Borough to raise a tax on licenced premises- well summarised in the Tribune here as the Islington “late night levy”
The move will have little effect on high-profit clubs with promotional drinks offers, disgorging their drunken clientele in the early hours, but will hasten the closure of small community pubs according to CAMRA
In classic Islington style, the money raised will be spent on more saturation CCTV coverage, and recruiting a private security force, who will patrol the streets with no powers of arrest, a rag-tag motley-crew of para-military red-coats.
This hare-brained scheme was introduced by Islington Labour’s Councillor Paul Convery.

There was always something of the Puritan about Cllr Convery.

Unfortunately, Captain Convery’s New model Army is more of a “Dad’s Army”, with Paul as a cross between Private Frazer and the pompous Captain Mainwaring character, supported by his loyal sidekick Cllr Poole, and some loyal backbenchers resembling Cpl. Jones, running around wringing their hands and shouting “Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!”

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The proposal to introduce a privatised security squad was buried in the policy paper (at para 5.3 ) and was not a “recommendation” , perhaps because the idea had nothing to recommend it, but more likely as under the Constitution it is possible only to amend recommendations, so therefore impossible to table an amendment to the goon squad proposal. 

Predictably, Councillors supporting the levy ignored the failure of current licensing policy and policing, and naively assumed that the levy would somehow magic away the problems associated with late night drinking. Thus, they argued anyone against the lobby was somehow in favour of vomit, urine and yobbery. Each speaker was keen to outdo each other with apolacyptic visions of Hogarthian imagery, Cllr Poole offering to conduct guided tours of the hellish scenes in his ward. It’s only a matter of time before someone takes up that idea, and we see “drunk and disorderly” tours advertised in TimeOut or Rough Guide. It was this hellish imagery that gave rise to the headline “Islington rivers of vomit and urine” in the Islington Gazette.

In 1979 Elvis Costello recorded Oliver’s Army.
Now we have Convery’s Army:-
Convery’s Army are on their way
Convery’s Army are here to stay
And we would rather see anything else than Islington run this way…

Full music playlist for “Cap’n Convery’s Late Night Levy Army” here

Letter in Islington Tribune here

Protecting Children Services in Islington

UPDATE:-My amendments to the Budget were unsuccessful, and the cuts to Children Services have gone through, with Labour Councillors voting instead to keep their press officers, support officers, and allowances (with the Lib Dems abstaining)
Coverage in islington Tribune here

November 2015-shock rise in crime in Islington reported.

Original Post from 27 February:-
At Islington Council’s Budget Meeting tonight, the Council is potentially going to make a grave error with its proposed drastic cuts in children’s services.
The Council has of course been unfairly hit by disproportionate and draconian funding cuts from central Government, and there are inevitably difficult decisions to make.
However, targeting posts in Children’s Services is making the axe fall in the wrong place, and potentially putting vulnerable children at risk.
In my amendment, I will argue that the cuts should fall instead on the bloated Communications budget (currently running at about £1million per year), and on Councillors own allowances.
When Labour took control in Islington in 2010, they had pledged to “slash” expenditure on both communications spending and allowances. Now they can fulfil that pledge, and protect a front-line service.

My budget amendment also provides additional funding for road safety, especially around schools, and preventing bike theft (which is prolific in Islington)
Detail
I’m trying to stop the Councils proposed slashing of jobs in children’s services. (See appendix B esp items 3,4 and 7) In nearly £4million of proposed cuts, there are six senior posts and a management post being deleted amongst staffing reduction.
I will protect these posts by instead:
-abolishing party political spin doctors
-abolishing the Councils propaganda magazine “Islington Life”
-reducing the Councils million pound Communications budget by about a third
-reducing Councillor allowances by 10% (to follow the example of Council Leader Richard Watts)
(I will follow Cllr Watts Leadership, and take a 10% reduction in allowances, whatever the outcome of the budget amendment)
-abolishing “special allowances” for chairing planning meetings.

My amendment also provides funding for an air quality strategy to tackle killer pollution levels.

Finally, my amendment also provides some additional funding for the Advice Alliance- there help for vulnerable people needed more than ever with Coalition attacks on welfare and the needy.
(Also topical, with today’s announcement by Grayling killing off Criminal Legal Aid)

Islington Employment Commission

Islington Council set up an employment commission, to solve the unemployment crisis in the Borough by having a series of meetings.
It sadly never reached the high profile those who dreamt it up felt it deserved, so I’ve made this playlist to help promote it.
The terms of reference, appointees and timetable were carefully controlled by the Council Leadership. Nonetheless, the aim of reducing unemployment was a laudable one.
The process has finished, and the report is here
Good luck with that!

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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Cycle deaths in London

I attended a demo outside TFL HQ on Blackfriars Road, to highlight the sad cases of recent cycling fatalities in London, and the failure of Boris/TFL to take proper budgetary action to improve cycling safety.
Thousands of cyclists laid down their bikes and lay in the road in a symbolic gesture described as a “die-in” by the organisers, an informal group who set up the Stop the Killing protest
The concerns will not go away- and pressure is building on Boris to act.
There is a lot of anti-cycling sentiment out there, for which some cyclist behaviour does not help, but ultimately cyclists are vulnerable and it is time to stop blaming cyclists for the fatal accidents or incidents where they are seriously injured, and work to make London a safer, more cyclist-friendly environment.
A similar argument (but much better written) is made here by Caroline Russell of Living Streets
cycling playlist here

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Cycle theft in Islington.

playlist: “bike theft in Islington”-click here to listen
Bike Theft in Islington
About 1500 cycles were reported stolen in the London Borough of Islington in 2013 and about the same the year before. (One of them was mine.) The true figure is almost certainly higher, as many people in Islington no longer bother to report the loss of a push-bike.
I was able to get confirmation of how many of the 3000 bikes stolen were recovered- the answer being about 5%.
It is hard to imagine many crimes where the clear-up rate would be so low, or considered acceptable. Article in Islington Tribune here

The figures for the following years were equally dire.

1,021 bicycles were reported stolen between 1/11/14 and 31/10/15. Of these, 36 were recovered and returned to their owner. The recovery rate has actually fallen -to about 3%

A year later, and some Islington Cyclists had their bikes stolen and had to compete in charity race on Boris Bikes (as reported in Standard 08/16)

What is needed:-
1 Recognising bike theft as a crime and allocating police resources to preventing, deterring and solving bike-theft
( on 27/02/14 – I proposed an amendment to Islington budget to provide additional funding for that instead of propaganda and Councillor allowances, but the amendment was defeated by Labour)
2 Council provision and encouragement of more (and better) secure cycle storage
3 Better and more co-ordinated bike identification, so that every bike sold in LBI should be properly marked, identifiable and traceable at point of sale

Notes
Islington Cyclist? link to ICAG website
Islington:- a Borough where it is not safe to leave a bike locked up in public
However, cycle racks are pointless if cyclists have no confidence that their bike properly locked and secured will still be there on their return. Bike thieves in Islington now act with impunity, pushing cycle theft to epidemic proportions. Many stolen bikes are then used to commit ride-by robberies, making Islington the phone-snatch capital of London.
The Labour Council have failed to act, and chose to divert resources away from traditional policing to CCTV. It was interesting to watch a film of someone stealing my bike, but it didn’t prevent the theft, or get it returned.
I’ve had three bikes and one set of wheels stolen in Islington in ten years, and will no longer cycle in the Borough if there is not secure indoor storage at the other end of the journey. It’s simply not safe to do so.

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