Category Archives: Politics

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.

And don’t miss this survivor’s account by Adrian Tempany. Powerful and moving.

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.

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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A Re-Appraisal of the Law on “Joint Enterprise” (guest blog by Greg Stewart)

This blog by Greg Stewart, criminal appeal specialist and head of GT Stewart solicitors, assesses the new Joint Enterprise landscape following the long-awaited Supreme Court Judgment in R v JOGEE

Introduction

Criminal lawyers have gone from an aridly dry January (1) to fabulous, celebratory wet February – even for such a well soaked profession. How often does our highest court declare that we have all been getting the law seriously wrong for over 30 years?! Even less often I would say than Government Ministers suddenly reverse their views on whistle blowers and protests from criminal defence lawyers. (2)

Of course the Supreme Court have sought to make it clear that the clarification made to the common law by R v Jogee and Rudduck v The Queen [2016] UKSC 8 & 7 is not “unprecedented”– it’s just that you, me, the bar including umpteen queen’s counsel, and the senior judiciary had been looking at the wrong precedents for more than three decades, or more accurately, overlooking the right ones. 

Indeed, a cynical jurist may just smell a political strain that is not unrelated to what is happening in other areas of criminal justice – we have a Justice “Ministry” (with all the evangelical zeal that implies)  that now lambasts it’s own civil servants for the failings of the prison system, allows the restocking of prison libraries and generally enlisting the values of the New Testament in place of the Old. In doing so there is belated recognition that over those 30 years the prison population has doubled. The proportion of young people incarcerated in this Country, despite recent reversals, remains scandalously high.

This judgment will go a long way to stopping the interminable waste of young people – disproportionately black – rotting in detention centres and prisons for year after year well beyond condign punishment or meaningful rehabilitation.

Joint Enterprise Law- a pre-Jogee history

For those of you who have not had a chance to study the judgement, the Supreme Court reviewed the evolution of the common law principles of joint enterprise (or common purpose) from the 19th century. It noted about then there was an important clarification away from the belief that it was sufficient that the conduct of the principal was a probable consequence of the common purpose, it had to be part of the common purpose. This identified the fundamental distinction: whilst a probable consequence was always going to be an important consideration for a jury when deciding what the common purpose of the defendants was, it was not sufficient on its own to fix criminal liability. The judgment highlights the important (but until now overlooked) line of authority from:-

R v Collison (1831) 4 Car & P 565 – an accomplice of an apple thief who attacked the landowner’s watchman with a bludgeon would only be guilty if that was part of the common purpose should resistance be encountered; 

R v Skeet (1866) 4 F & F 931 – poachers routinely carry weapons and it is necessary to find a common design or intention, beyond poaching, to kill or cause grievous bodily harm for homicide; 

R v Spraggett [1960] Crim LR 840 – a burglar’s conviction for the killing by his co-accomplice was not safe where the trial judge wrongly directed that a common intention to commit a burglary was the same as a common intention to commit violence;

 R V Reid [1976] 62 Cr App R 109 – the appellant was correctly convicted of manslaughter – not murder – when he attended the home of an army colonel in the early hours of the morning with others who were carrying weapons including firearms as the common purpose was clearly to cause harm even though he did not intend death or grievous bodily harm (though he might have been said to foresee it).

 However, in Chang Wing-Siu [1985] AC 168 the Privy Council extended the doctrine beyond this – three appellants had gone to the flat of a prostitute to rob her husband carrying knives which were in fact used to slash her and kill him. They complained about a direction at trial that they would be guilty if they contemplated a knife might be used with intent to commit serious bodily harm. They said the level of contemplation had to be more than 50%. The PC rightly rejected that argument but then went on to create a new form of “parasitic accessory liability” where “it turns on contemplation or, putting the same idea in other words, authorization, which may be express but is more usually implied. It meets the case of a crime foreseen as a possible incident of the common unlawful enterprise. The criminal liability lies in participating in the venture with that foresight”.

 This novel development was confirmed by the House of Lords in R v Powell & English [1999] 1 AC 1 where Lord Hutton recognised the logical anomaly it created in that the principal who merely foresaw a possibility would not meet the mens rea of murder but the person who had not actually killed would. However, there were strong policy reasons in the area of criminal conduct for holding that to be the case. Lord Steyn agreed whilst Lord Mustill also did with more unease. In English’s case his appeal was successful as the knife produced by his co-accused was “fundamentally different” from the wooden post he had used in the joint attack on the police officer.

The Jogee Judgment

The Supreme Court acknowledged that the courts could make the doctrine more severe but only with caution especially for a secondary party. Five reasons swayed them: (1) they had the benefit of a much fuller analysis of important case law; (2) the common law is not working well in practice: (3) it is an important doctrine that has taken a wrong turn; (4) foresight is no more than evidence of intent and (5) it is not right that the liability of a secondary party is set lower than the principal. [paras 80-84]. From now on what matters is whether the accessory encouraged or assisted the crime committed by the principal. “Fundamental departure” is no longer a useful part of the doctrine but merely a consideration of what was foreseeable when weighing up evidential considerations.

Of course, the Supreme Court reminded us that a change in the law does not provide an automatic ground of appeal. And even where it can be argued that the doctrine was misapplied the Court of Appeal will only grant leave to appeal out of time if the applicant can demonstrate a “substantial injustice”. However, given the disparity between a determinate sentence for manslaughter and the mandatory sentence for murder that should not be an insurmountable obstacle – though it may result in a re-trial rather than an acquittal.          

 What stopped this injustice in the end was the relentless pushing of the lawyers. My client, 16 years old, of good character and 200 yards from the stabbing was refused a certified question by the Court of Appeal three years ago and after 18 months of waiting also denied admissibility by the European Court, so hats off to those who got there. But it would not have happened but for the irresistible weight of a liberal consensus that this was wrong. That consensus had built over the past 5 years thanks to interests groups. These were mainly the parents of young people serving life sentences. They found support from campaigners concerned with youth justice (JENGA and JFK being the most prominent) but it included many journalists (one being Melanie McFadyean at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism) and the media (Fran Robertson – who made Guilty by Association). Whilst there has been an important Law Commission report in 2007, it would have gathered dust, like most, but for the campaigning. That led to parliamentary engagement. In 2011 a Parliamentary Justice Committee started to take evidence from a wide spectrum of those involved including the victims’ families – and it was often the victims (or near victims) in the witness box and the “winning” group in the dock. A consensus grew that joint enterprise as applied to the accessories to a crime and especially murder, was a lottery which had to stop. (3) The lottery had many outlets. It often started with a wide prosecutorial discretion: what an individual lawyer considered foreseeable? Of course across the country different cultures developed and these would determine who got a ticket for this lottery or who got offered a public order charge or was not prosecuted at all. Once in court it depended on the discretion of the lawyers on both sides to advise defendants and victims to accept pleas or proceed with uncertain outcomes. Ultimately the judge was then left to tip toe through labyrinthine jury directions. Finally the burden on juries was huge – as was the consequences for those in the dock. Ultimately, it took our most senior lawyers to admit we had been getting it wrong (or had “taken a wrong turn”as they delicately put it)  In fact, it had been a devastating lurch to the right in the criminal law. It’s always political.

Who would have foreseen all this during the depressing days of January?!

Blog by Greg Stewart of GT Stewart, February 2016   

  
Editor’s Notes

1 Civil Rights Editor endured dry January to raise money for cancer relief and can be sponsored here!

2 The celebrations by criminal legal aid lawyers throughout February arose from this statement by Lord Chancellor Michael Gove, over-turning the disastrous, unfair contract tendering scheme introduced by his appallingly inept and hated predecessor Chris Grayling. Leading  law firm GT Stewart were one of the firms  taking legal action against the MoJ over the botched procurement, and welcomed the climbdown.

3 There were numerous calls for reform by lawyers for years (see eg this recent blog by Ronnie Manek)

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)

Damming assessment of Grayling’s botched partial privatisation by MPs in 2018 here https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/22/part-privatisation-of-probation-sector-is-a-mess-mps-say?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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 at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court

Community Advice offered in Court

A new court-based Advice Service at Highbury Court is most welcome!

 See also this blog by Joanne Thomas

The Magistrates Court is not somewhere people associate with receiving advice, other than the occasional finger-wagging lecture from a Justice of the Peace, usually warning of the consequences of not complying with their instructions. Yet the vast majority of people who pass through their doors are clearly in need of advice and help in tackling the kinds of problem that brought them to Court in the first place.

Homelessness, mental health, unemployment, poverty, debt, alcoholism, drug addiction, illiteracy, overcrowded accomodation, domestic violence, the Courts often see some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Of course the Probation service can sometimes help, but are suffering from funding restraints as well as outsourcing, and  Community Orders are increasingly targetted at punishment rather than rehabilitaion.

Often solicitors defending at these Courts try to plug the gap in the lack of advice available, but apart from constraints on time and money have to be careful not to blur the professional boundary between lawyer and client, as well as acknowledging that we are not trained counsellors or social workers, lacking the resources and knowledge to advice on the areas that need addressing outside the immediacy of legal representation. Often lawyers do not even know where to direct clients who need help in other areas.

All this has changed with this exciting project at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court.From January of this year, the project has been offering help and advice from a small room accessed from the same waiting area as the Courtrooms on the first floor. And as there is plenty of waiting at Court, there is time for the people who desperately need help and advice to talk about their problems and receive practical help and guidance.

Last week I popped in to see how they were getting on. I was impressed by the set-up and those running it, but more so by the verifiable results they could demonstrate, and the numerous cases they could describe showing practical examples of problem-solving for clients.

The community Advice is run by Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau incorporating Islington Citizens Advice. It follows a longer running pilot project in Plymouth. Since opening they have helped hundreds of court users with issues such as homelessness, debts, housing, family, mental health, benefits, alcohol and drug related issues.

I met Jess, a volunteer (working there one day a week) and Ross, the co-ordinator for the project who told me:- 

We work with people who are using the court and their families to give advice and help them to find out about and access support services in the community. We also provide immediate help with practical issues and offer emotional support. We are independent of the judicial process. We operate independently from other agencies in the court. The service is delivered primarily by a team of 10 volunteers and one paid staff (co-ordinator) and focuses mainly on those who are not working with probation, though we are open to all” .

Ross provided numerous case studies. I attach an edited version of one below. 

I later spoke to Joanne Thomas from the Centre for Justice Innovation who proudly told me the Advice Service at Highbury was “doing an incedible job”. Joanne has previously written about the project here.

Conclusion

For too long the criminal justice system has been used to punish criminal acts, without addressing the causes of crime, even where the perpetrators are crying out for help. Judges, like lawyers, are not social workers, and have to uphold the law. But if we are to avoid the “revolving door” syndrome, and break the cycle of recidivism, then taking an opportunity to tackle root causes with practical help, is not only humane and just, it is likely to prove a cost-effective way to reduce crime 

Case Study

Paul (not his real name) was 35 years old and homeless when he attended court because of drug offences. He had a large number of previous convictions and his relationship had broken down. He was suffering severe financial hardship, receiving no income and owing money to a number of people on top of the court fines he had just received. He was also suffering from drug and alcohol dependence that was affecting his mental health. In addition, he had lost his birth certificate and wanted help to apply for a CSCS card.

Paul was empowered to make his own decisions about what to do, assisted in applying for jobseekers allowance, and referred him to a number of services for his mental health, drug and alcohol use and homelessness. He was also guided on applying for his CSCS card and birth certificate as well as helped to access support for his debts.

There were Follow up appointments. He is now in receipt of jobseekers allowance and is managing to pay his priority debt (his court fines) as well as sorting out his other debts. He has received his CSCS card and is looking for work in construction, and has received his birth certificate. He is also receiving counselling for his mental health.

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

Legal Workers Trade Union

Legal Workers’ Trade Union (guest blog by Arthur Kendrick)

Why is there a need for a legal workers union?

 Unity 

There are thousands of solicitors, barristers, legal executives, paralegals and legal administrative staff in the UK. We need one voice. Organisations like the CLSA and the LCCSA have done amazing work in fighting the cuts and organising the workforce, but fundamentally, we need one organisation that can speak for us all. We need the Legal Workers Trade Union.

 In the last week we have seen how our divided profession has allowed the government to press on with its agenda of crippling cuts to legal aid. Without a central body to stand for our common interests as legal aid practitioners, this slash and burn government will continue to divide and rule.

 Experience

 It took our profession hundreds of years to go on strike and we’ve learned a number of valuable lessons (not least which handbag to wear…), but it’s difficult to know how to minimise the collateral damage to our clients. The Legal Workers Trade Union, as a part of Unite the Union, will be able to draw on decades of experience that will help us maximise the impact of any action we take and make sure that impact is felt by those responsible.

 Working conditions

It has been only three years since LASPO, but more than thirty since Legal Aid rates have increased. Very few industries have put up with such a savage attack on pay and working conditions. With the next cut due in a matter of days, working conditions across the legal aid industry will continue to fall. We need someone in our corner.

The Legal Workers Trade Union is a movement for fair and sustainable working conditions for all employees on an equal basis across the legal sector. Too many vastly talented individuals are leaving legal aid work, and too many are fearful to enter. Still more are putting up with a gradual erosion of their working conditions, thinking there is no alternative. The LWTU will help provide independent, experienced assistance in any employer/employee negotiations and help protect your rights.

 Who can join?

 LWTU is not just for the legally qualified; our membership includes students, trainees, and pupil barristers, as well as interns and volunteers, personal assistants, legal administrative staff, paralegals, solicitors, barristers and judges.

 Why join?

 We are stronger together. Quite apart from the huge importance of a strong, central voice for the industry, workers stand to benefit in a variety of ways from union membership.

 Workers in unions tend to earn more, receive more training and have better job security. Membership of a union also gives you access to the professional assistance that can help you negotiate better employment terms, like longer paternity/maternity leave or holiday entitlement.

 Perhaps most importantly, as a member of the LWTU you will be part of the fight for fairness and equality across the industry. Even if you are lucky enough to work in a positive and progressive workplace, your membership will help empower the paralegal on less than minimum wage, the legal executive working an eighty-hour week, or the barrister earning £50 (and often much less) to spend their Saturday morning at the Magistrates’ Court.

 How to Join

 You can join Unite online at:

 https://www.unitetheunion.org/join-unite/

 If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to tweet us @Legal_TU, email us on legaltradeunion@gmail.com or take a look at our website https://legaltradeunion.wordpress.com/

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

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