Monthly Archives: September 2013

Drugs, and the war against them

playlist of songs about drugs
Every so often, a senior policeman or minor politician espouses something that almost everyone in criminal justice system knows: the “war” on drugs is unwinnable, costly and harmful. The braver (usually near retirement) will add a call for prohibited drugs to be legalised or at least de-criminalised.
The latest is here ((Chief Constable call for legalised drugs as reported on BBC)
Now wait for the backlash.
What we won’t get is any sensible debate or policy initiate from those in Government, or their loyal opposition.

(Photo below:Islington’s “Crime. Chief” Cllr Convery leads the war on drugs in Islington (details here)

For information about drugs and the Law, it’s always worth checking the website of the excellent campaigning charity Release

20130929-173822.jpg

Compulsory recycling in Islington

You can enjoy a playlist about recycling whilst reading this piece-why not give it a listen?!

LABOURS COMPULSORY RECYCLING-TIME FOR A CHANGE
Introduction
Under Labour Control, Islington Council have introduced a compulsory recycling policy, snooped through residents bins, and issued fines-as set out in the Islington Gazette here
Now the Councils stats in their report and have set an unambitious target of less than 1% in two years.
Most people understand why it is important to recycle more (as well as re-using items where possible and reducing waste in general.) Polling shows that most people actually want to recycle more, and what is needed to achieve a higher rate of recycling is encouragement and the provision of adequate facilities. What residents don’t want is a coercive policy, with a bullying Council issuing threats, followed by fines, and which makes recycling mandatory rather than desirable. Pensioners have said they would rather go to prison than pay fines unfair recycling fines (example here)
Evidence shows that such an approach is counter-productive, perhaps unsurprisingly as to make such a policy effective, it requires the Council to snoop through its citizen’s bins, spying on those it should be serving.
Islington’s Labour Council have proved this with their compulsory recycling policy, a policy introduced without warning ( it was not in their manifesto) or debate.(This was the subject of criticism at the time, which was of course ignored by the Labour Executive)
The policy means in practical terms the imposition of fines for those deemed to be not recycling enough, which necessitates council resources being deployed not to collect or recycle your rubbish, but checking through it to see what residents have put in one bin or another. This practice has been condemned locally as “the return of the bin snoopers” (see Gazette article above or Tribune article here)
It is a straightforward issue. You either support compulsory Recycling (Islington Labour Councillors) or you do not (most of the rest of us). But it is important to the debate to know whether the policy works, or at least (if causation unclear) whether recycling is rising or falling since the policy change.
Policy not working
Fact is, recycling under Labour has fallen in Islington since the introduction of compulsory recycling.
Islington Labour deny the fall, even in the face of the Councils own figures which prove the case.
Take for example the Tribune article link above.
In this, we see “Environment chief Cllr Rakhia Ismail said : “Recycling rates are up since we introduced compulsory recycling.”
Yet the report on which the news item is based, an official Council document, shows a fall in the figures. The author of that report? The same Cllr Ismail. The report is published and publicly available here
By 21 September there was an acknowledgement of a a drop, blamed on “government cuts” in this tweet
That’s not the first time that excuse has been deployed-it was a favourite of Cllr Ismail’s bungling predecessor as Exec member for environment-the hapless Cllr Paul Smith (later reshuffled or sacked) – see e.g. here
Then, in a further tweet there is a denial that the Council engages in bin snooping. Once again, to establish the truth we may merely look at the report signed off by Cllr Ismail , which states that 11 people so far have been fined (and many more-number unspecified-warned) under the compulsory policy. Short of using a psychic, or randomly selecting people to fine (a bit like jury selection) , then there must have been some kind of intrusive investigation. And that is what you and I call snooping.
Finally, let’s put the recycling figures into context.
Recycling rates in Islington
When Labour previously ran Islington (up to 1998) the Borough had the lowest recycling rate of any Borough in London.(3.5%)
After losing control, recycling shot up, (quadrupling in four years and increased year on year.
(Let me declare an interest – from 2008-2010 I was the Councillor with responsibility for recycling.* I know well how hard Council Officers work on trying to reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfill. It was heartbreaking to see good officers lose their jobs when in their first budget the 2010 incoming Labour administration axed the sustainability team.)
Conclusion
Islington’s recycling policy is unwanted and not working, but rather than trying to fudge or deny the figures, they have an opportunity to stop compulsion and concentrate on supporting and encouraging residents to recycle more.
In the meantime, beware Council Officers rifling through your rubbish , sifting for evidence .
TOP TIPS TO AVOID BIN SNOOPERS

-always shred any correspondence or documents
-If you are uncomfortable with Council snoopers looking through your bottles and tins, consider recycling direct to bottle bank or other facilities.
-Watch out for people dropping rubbish in your recycling box, or recyclables in your bin- you may face questioning, or be placed under suspicion
-If you face a fine or investigation, and want to take advice, feel free to contact me or your local Councillor
-lobby Labour Councillors to drop the mandatory policy

*During 2008-2010 recycling rates improved, and LBI was the recipient of numerous awards for recycling, including:- Best Local Authority Recycling Initiative ( 2009); Consistent Commitment to Developing Environmental Awareness & Sustainability (VALPAK Awards 2009) ;Most Innovative Local Authority (VALPAK Awards 2008);Best Regional Project – Watch your Waste week – 2009; Joined Up Award – Giant Green Environment Awards 2008 and see here

20130923-172205.jpg

20131003-233055.jpg

The Politics of Legal Aid

    INTRO

Listen to playlist of songs about Legal Aid here
Or check out Tom Robinson at Justice AllianceRally (outside Old Bailey) here
With another MOJ consultation on revised legal aid proposals to engage with, it is also time to engage with Political Parties during Party Conference season, and make the case for elected representatives to stand up for Legal Aid. Labour has an opportunity to position themselves as champions of Legal Aid, and choosing to debate Legal Aid at their conference in Sunday’s ballot would be an encouraging start. Those with Labour Party affiliations can ask their constituency parties to choose the Legal Aid Motion. Those on twitter can support @FightBach who is seeking to persuade labour delegates so to do, and @savejusticeuk

(Post Conference UPDATE -See at *** below for result of ballot)

Campaign update- lawyers campaign meeting Tuesday 1st October Justice for Sale

BACKGROUND

Legal Aid in Criminal Cases has been systematically cut, firstly by the last Labour Government, and then by the current Coalition.
The Appointment of the wretched, legally illiterate, lawyer-hating Chris Grayling as Lord Chancellor was a sure sign that the Government wanted a hatchet man as political front for a Ministry of Justice consultation that promised further savings through cuts and the introduction of Price Competiive Tendering. These proposal were universally condemned as likely to reduce quantity and quality of solicitors firms, reduce access to justice, and increase risk of miscarriages of justice. A vigorous campaign was mounted, which succeeded in unifying solicitors and barristers. For the solicitors side, the LCCSA (of which I am currently a committee member) spearheaded the London campaign -see the link here for info on the Justice for Sale campaign, and short films setting out the faults of PCT and the backlash. (Or my previous blog)
More recently, campaigning groups have joined together to support legal aid under the umbrella group Justice Alliance
Other groups have brought a different perspective. The secretive “big Firms Group”, representing the interests of the partners/owners of some of the larger Criminal Practices, had their own meetings with the MOJ, and also had the ear of the Law Society.
The Law Society (professional body for solicitors) has had a mixed record. On record as opposing PCT, they simultaneously offered a training course on how to bid for a contract post PCT. Then recently they “triumphantly announced the “death of PCT” in a deal which saw much of the original contracting proposals thrown out, settling instead for a further cut of legal aid rates.* With profit margins in most firms in single figures, this is itself potentially catastrophic, but the problems don’t end there. As lawyers know, the devil is in the detail.
The revised proposals include:-

· Competitive Tender for duty contracts, based on quality and capacity criteria
· 17.5% rate cuts, 2 phases. 8.5% in February 2014, the remainder in 2015
· Single unified national Police Station fee of £200 inclusive of VAT
· Single fee of about £300 for cases in magistrates’ court,regardless of whether guilty plea or fully contested trial
· Crown Court, cases under 500 PPE to be paid under new arrangement
· 30% cut to VHCC rates on new and existing contracts.

click here to go straight to the new MOJ consultation and object to these cuts!

    THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

The Conservative Party appear ideologically wedded to the idea that cutting Legal Aid is imperative. However, given that Tory MPs, like the rest of the population, are spoon fed a series of myths and misconceptions about the cost of legal aid, and no information about the consequential costs of cutting it (higher crime, bigger prison budget, correcting miscarriages of justice) it is incumbent on legal aid lawyers and campaigners to engage with and better inform the backbench members.

The Liberal Democrats have traditionally had a sound policy in support of legal aid. **
Maybe LD legal aid policy has been subsumed by the practical realities of Coalition Government. However, MPs were not tested on this, because Grayling managed to spearhead his reforms without the need for a Parliamentary vote. It is noteable however that his henchman for the current slash-and-burn is LD peer Lord McNally.
Notwithstanding that, some backbench Lib Dem MPs have been vocal opponents of the reforms, notably Sarah Teather and Julian Huppert.
And the Party re-asserted its support at the Glasgow conference, firstly by voting to debate Legal Aid and re-assert support for a properly funded system with a motionthat was then supported by Conference vote as reported here
By contrast, check out the unequivocal support for Legal Aid by the Liberal Party (no relation to LibDems) on its website

Labour, who allowed legal aid to be cut in real terms during its last term of office, went into the last election promising to cut legal aid further (2010 manifesto). They also supported a tendering process. Nonetheless, their new found voice opposing PCT and severe cuts is welcome. Strong backbench campaigning by Karl Turner and the excellent Jeremy Corbyn ( (who sits on the Justice select committee) has been supported by encouraging words in the House by Sadiq Khan. What we have yet to see is any of these fine words formulated into policy, or a binding commitment to restore any legal aid cuts that are forced through now. As recently as last year Andy Slaughter was saying there would be further cuts to criminal legal aid by Labour (in LSG article)
Campaigners need to encourage the Party to set out their stall, and pledge to have a properly funded sustainable legal aid system. It would be encouraging if we saw this debated at their Brighton Conference, rather than just left as a “fringe” issue. Most of the agenda is set, but with the ballot on Sunday for further motions, and Legal Aid one of those under consideration, it is a test perhaps of how seriously the Party views Legal Aid . ***,

    CAMPAIGNING

The campaign to preserve legal aid and protect the integrity of our Justice System continues.
There is a further MOJ consultation to engage with.
But the hardest battle is to keep the issue live, and in the public domain, without succumbing to the negative hysteria of the tabloids keen to promulgate the myth of fat-cat lawyers defending ill-deserving criminals.
Now is the time to engage with Political parties and elected representatives, make a case, and demand from those in Power an end to the Cuts, and those in Opposition a meaningful commitment to preserve Legal aid.

*for an account of the negotiations between Law Society, MOJ and others, see Paul Harris blog here
** LD legal aid policy as amended and approved at Spring Conference Sheffield 2011 here
*** UPDATE – the Labour Party did not choose legal aid as a topic for debate in their ballot.
There was only one mention of legal aid-and that was not criminal legal aid- in this strangely dispiriting speech by sadiq khan
Legal Aid was discussed only at fringe meetings. There was nothing to suggest that any of the current or proposed cuts would be over-turned by an incoming Labour Government (“we in the Labour Party recognise the need for austerity measures” as shadow A-G Emily thornberry said at one fringe event)
I can’t actually find a Labour Party legal aid policy on their website or elsewhere, if someone can direct me to it, I will add to blog

20130920-130456.jpg

Bikeathon

cycling playlist
Every year one of the highlights of the fundraising calendar is the London Bikeathon, and the 2013 Bikeathon was no exception. The biggest fundraiser for Leukemia and Lymphoma research, this event with different distances of 26, 52 or 100 miles has something for cyclists of all abilities.
I’ve previously entered on my own and enjoyed the camaraderie of the other cyclists hitting the roads in and around London, but more recently have been privegeled to be part of the Shearman Bowen team.

20130917-162252.jpg
This year the date was moved back to a rainy September in mid-September – but the team came through completing the 52 mile route.
Our sponsor page is still open – so please click here to contribute to a great cause.

20130917-162706.jpg

IMG_1722.JPG

SunnysideGardens -Rising from the ashes

Sunnyside Community Gardens are a precious (although small) piece of Green Space in Hillrise ward, the Northern tip of Islington. The physical location is opposite the only significant Park in the ward, Elthorne Park, and separated from it by a quiet part of Sunnyside Road. I have campaigned for years to close that stretch of Sunnyside Rd, green it over and create a larger green space-see my YouTube clip here
But Sunnyside is more than just a physical space. Sunnyside provides a range horticultural and other services,notably helping and supporting residents with learning difficulties.

Fire
The fire of July 2013 that burned the Community Gardens building beyond repair was devasting news, reported in the Islington Gazette here.  (See also this report in Islington Tribune )

    
However, the local Community has rallied round, and until such time as the Insurance settle, and we can rebuild, services will continue. My call for the Council to provide a portakabin was picked up by Cllr Lorraine Constantinou, and with help from Mullaley, a portakabin duly arrived.
We set up a support group on Facebook
And local campaigner Carl Quilliam organised an auction in the Royal Oak pub, where I was proud to be auctioneer at an event which saw generous donations from residents and Councillors Stacy, Horton and Constantinou. And then of course there were the numerous residents who turned out to bid for the lots, and buy the raffle tickets.
But it didn’t stop there. Local residents group WHPARA donated £100 and publicised the event, and prizes were donated by other local groups including Islington Boxing Club and Caxton House.
Local MP Jeremy Corbyn also offered tea in The Commons as a raffle prize.
And there were contributions and help from many more-too numerous to mention (but maybe a quick plug for Archway with Words who donated tickets for a very interesting forthcoming community event )
So from this adversity we have found a real community spirit, and hopefully (if you will forgive the cliche) we will see a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
In total, the auction/raffle raised over £700, but there is of course a long way to go.

letter to local paper

20130915-204315.jpg
Sunnyside Gardens Playlist here
Thanks to M.Heath for the photo from auction.