Tag Archives: justice

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New Lord Chancellor David Lidington

On 11 June 2017 PM Theresa May in a post-election re-shuffle appointed David Lidington as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. He replaces Liz Truss,  who had herself been appointed by May in a post-election re-shuffle less than a year before.

Lidington is the fourth consecutive non-lawyer appointment- his predecessors were Liz Truss, Michael  Gove and Grayling (widely regarded as the worst Lord Chancellor ever).  Dominic Raab (courts and justice minister) Phillip Lee and Sam Gyimah ( junior ministers) complete the team.

This blog aims to monitor Lidington’s performance over his term of office.

Background

David Roy Lidington CBE PC (born 30 June 1956) has been MP for Aylesbury since 1992. He was Minister of State for Europe from May 2010 to July 2016, and Leader of the House of Commons.

He was educated at a public school, before studying history at Cambridge (appearing on University Challenge)

He was given a CBE in Cameron’s widely criticised resignation honours list.

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Expenses scandal In May 2009, it was revealed Lidington had claimed £1,300 on expenses for dry cleaning. He also claimed for toothpaste, shower gel, body spray, vitamin supplements and a second home allowance. He repaid the claims for toiletries, saying: “I accept that many people would see them as over-generous.”  So although he eventually came clean you paid for his soap 

Record in Parliament pre-appointment  (Justice issues)

Lidington voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act,  restricting the scope of legal aid and limiting fees paid to solicitors in no-win no-fee cases. The “they-work-for-you” website says Lidington generally voted against equal gay rights, and his record on cutting legal aid is here.

Challenges Ahead

The new Lord Chancellor was sworn in on 19 June.  In the in-tray? Read anopen letter to Lord Chancellor from Joshua Rozenberg

Sort out the prison crisis! read these recommendations from the Howard League

His first official pronouncement, following the Grenfell tragedy, was on availability of legal aid in housing cases- and he got it wrong (see here)

There was then a period of calm, in a political period dominated by Brexit, we heard very little from or about the Lord Chancellor until the Party Conference in October when there were apparently conciliatory noises on LASPO reform

 

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Lord Chancellor Liz Truss-a Review of her Term of Office

On 14th July 2016 incoming Prime Minister Theresa May  appointed Liz Truss as the new Secretary of State for Justice (also known as Lord Chancellor).

She lasted less than a year, being demoted by May on 11th June in the re-shuffle that followed the “mandate” election.

Truss took over from Michael Gove,  sacked for his disloyalty and failed leadership bid rather than his performance in post (Gove had replaced the hopeless and reviled Chris Grayling, widely believed to have been the worst Lord Chancellor in living memory)

Truss was the third consecutive non-lawyer to be appointed to the post. Did  that matter? Read the Secret Barrister blog.

This blog reviews Truss’  time in office.

Background-Pre-Justice Secretary

Truss was previously at DEFRA, and perhaps best known for her widely ridiculed Conservative Party conference speech about French cheese and British Pork (footage enjoyed on this clip from Have I Got News For You )  This was followed another much ridiculed Conference speech (October 2015) when she called for a return to “giving animals their proper names”

She co-authored a book (“Brittania unchained“) which accused British workers of laziness :”The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.

Critics who have attempted to engage with her, (according to George Monbiot in The Guardian) have said she is “indissolubly wedded to a set of theories about how the world should be, that are impervious to argument, facts or experience.”

Background

Born: 26 July 1975, in Paisley, Renfrewshire
Constituency: MP for South West Norfolk since 2010
University: read PPE at Merton
Before politics: 10 years as a management accountant, economics director at Cable & Wireless; deputy director of Reform (education think tank)

Truss and Criminal Justice (pre-appointment)

Truss was a member of the Justice Select Committee between March 2011 and November 2012, but apparently only ever spoke about justice issues three times in parliament,one of which was to strongly support cutting the legal aid budget.

On Home Affairs she consistently voted for a stricter asylum system and stronger enforcement of immigration rules; for the introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners, and for requiring the mass retention of information about communications.  She spoke several times during the committee stages of LASPO (transcripts here)

Comments and initial reaction on her Appointment 

There was initially mixed disappointment and scepticism from legal aid lawyers, largely due to Truss’ record of continuously voting for Legal Aid cuts.  Her priority should have been to sort out and protect Legal Aid, said the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, as reported here in the Solicitors Journal. Concerns were also raised about her views on prisons (eg here in the Justice Gap, July 2016)

Lord Faulks,  justice minister under her two predecessors, resigned his post because he felt that the inexperience of Truss  could  put at risk the standing of the judiciary and courts.  Anna Soubry QC turned down post of No. 2 to Truss (according to this piece in Legal Cheek)

Much of the commentary focussed on Truss’ gender, and her being supposedly the first female Lord Chancellor, but critics of Truss denied misogyny ( eg Lord Falconer here in the Guardian)

Lord Pannick pointed out that contrary to some reports she is not the first female Lord Chancellor – that was Eleanor of Provence, who filled in for her husband Henry III in 1253.  He added that at the time “there was probably a 13th-Century Lord Falconer complaining Eleanor hadn’t been trained as a lawyer”.  

The CLSA released a statement welcoming her appointment.

Peter Oborne writing for the Mail on Sunday had this observation:-

I greatly enjoyed seeing Ms Liz Truss, the new Lord Chancellor, in her majestic Tudor-style robes of office, redolent of old England, tradition and deference.

It is amusing to recall Ms Truss’s radical anti-Monarchy speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in 1994 (she was once on the national executive committee of that party’s youth and student wing) when she proclaimed: ‘We do not believe people are born to rule.’ Her target was the Queen. 

She found out soon afterwards that Oxford graduates in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, such as herself, are indeed born to rule, and it doesn’t much matter which party they are in.  I’m sure she’ll enjoy the many conversations with Her Majesty she’ll now have, thanks to her new high office”

First days in post

The Annual HM Inspector Of Prisons report was published (19 July) and once again showed a prison service in crisis- violent, over-crowded and full of drugs with few opportunities of rehabilitation. Truss response below:-



On 21st July Truss got to dress up in black and gold robes, and was sworn-in as Lord Chancellor. The ceremony can be viewed on this YouTube clip.

 

 

First Three  Months

After a long  pause to master the brief, Truss gave her first interviews and indicated she was planning to introduce a Bill of Rights. No such bill was introduced.  It was initially unclear whether we would be keeping or scrapping the Human Rights Act.

Truss also indicated the Government would not be proceeding with “Problem Solving Courts” (previously announced by Gove) although it was later clarified she actually meant they were still considering them, and a week later confirmed the Government were in fact proceeding with them.

After a Summer break, Truss attended a meeting of the Justice select Committee, (07 September) where to the astonishment of all those attending or following, she could not confirm any planned legislation, merely saying everything was under review (Guardian report here ) Private Eye was also unimpressed:

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On 03 October Truss was all trussed up again in robes, together with a “train bearer”,  to attend her first “Opening of the Legal Year” service. Her speech here.

On 04 October Truss gave her first Conference speech as Lord Chancellor. It was a more assured performance than the infamous “cheese speech” (see above) but failed to mention Legal Aid or Access to Justice. She spoke of prison reform, announcing £14 million additional investment (although it turned out this was funding already announced by Gove). She did not acknowledge the then topical high suicide rate in prisons, but promised that “ex-soldiers” would be recruited as prison officers.  The rest of the speech was a series of platitudes. In. Very. Short. Sentences. Text  here.  Quentin Letts’ summary “How could so jellyfish and unformed a political personality have been made lord chancellor? I have known ping-pong  bats less wooden, CBeebies presenters more statesmanlike.”

November-Failure to Defend the Judiciary

On 03 November, the High Court ruled in the case of Miller that Brexit via article 50 should require a vote in Parliament. In an outpouring of outrage in the tabloids there was open hostility to the judges who were described on one front page as “enemies of the people” The LC, whose oath of office is to uphold and defend the Independence of the Judiciary, would be expected to speak up in defence of the rule of law. Instead, for a long period, silence. #WheresLizTruss?  was trending on twitter. Read more here. Then, belatedly a half-hearted statement as reported here.  Criticism continued to grow, with an attack by some Tory MPs, as well as lawyers (see this summary as reported in the Guardian)

Truss later managed a half-apology, but the criticism never really died away and (in March 2017) the Lord Chief Justice piled in  here.

Prisons Crisis

The effects of the drastic cuts implemented by Grayling led to a crisis which continued to escalate during Truss’ term of  office. There was an escalation of assaults on prison staff, suicide and self-harm of prisoners,  a “strike” by officers, violence, drugs, escapes and riots. How did Truss cope? Poorly is the general consensus – see eg here

PI Reform

Truss achieved better headlines for her “crack-down” on whiplash claims. But these “reforms” , badged as reducing insurance premiums supposedly over-inflated by dodgy claims and the “compensation culture” will in fact not help consumers, but harm those suffering genuine injury, and offer a bumper pay-out for insurance companies. See this article for the detail.

Six months In 

In December Truss appeared in the Commons to announce that “barking dogs” would tackle the problem of drones being used to courier drug deliveries. Seriously. Read this article and play the clip where Truss announces this (to laughter). Could they? See the Guardian Pass Notes

Happy Christmas!

Liz Truss extended a special message to hedgehogs. Happy Christmas hedgehogs!

2017

Februaryslammed by lawyers following another “car-crash” TV Interview

First bill  (23 February 2017) – the Prisons and Courts Bill (2017)  covering four main areas:-

1 Prison safety and reform –  described as a “new framework and clear system of accountability for prisons”  It will “enshrine into law ” that a key purpose of prison is to reform and rehabilitate
2 Court reform: -another commitment to victims and the most vulnerable, as well as improving the system by digitisation. (But see here for critical commentary)
3 The judiciary – a better working environment for judges,  modern court facilities + better IT
4 Whiplash compensation – new fixed tariffs capping whiplash compensation pay-outs

The bill has not yet been enacted.

April By April, Truss appeared out of her depth, and reports indicated she does not have the confidence of the Judiciary OR cabinet colleagues.

See this  summary of her tenure, by Frances Crook (Howard League) . Meanwhile, with the election called, pundits predicted she would not last a full year -see eg this Legal Cheek piece by Joshua Rosenberg They were right.

May-June and the General Election Truss was largely absent for most of the General election campaign. But she did visit Wibsey! 

Goodbye Truss, hello David Lidington 

So Truss has left the full cabinet by being demoted to first secretary to the treasury, replaced by David Lidington. Lidington is the 3rd new lord chancellor in little more than two years. It used to be a job that the recipient would fulfil for a decade. He is also the fourth consecutive non-lawyer to have held the post. Read more about Lidington here.

Conclusion

If Truss had showed even half the enthusiasm for justice that she has for cheese, she could have really made her mark in an area crying out for reform. As it is, Truss lasted just 11 months in the job, the shortest tenure since the post was created, and has now been demoted.

Truss was not the worst Lord Chancellor in recent time (Grayling set a high standard  for that) but she fell far short of what was required. She never appeared to be on top of her brief, abjectly failed to tackle the prison crisis, failed to stand up for the Judiciary, and does not appear to have a solitary positive achievement she can point to from her term of office. 

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Michael GOVE -Justice Secretary

Following the Conservative election victory on 07 May 2015, Cameron replaced Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary (Lord Chancellor) with Michael Gove. Gove was sacked by incoming Prime Minister Theresa May on 14 July 2016, and replaced by Liz Truss. This blog reflects on his achievements and failures in office.

Pre Justice Secretary

Gove was previously Education secretary, attracting controversy and unpopularity in equal measure. A review by Ian Leslie of Gove’s successes and failures , together with his challenges ahead as Justice secretary, was published here in the New Statesman.

He  consistently championed cutting public expenditure, other than his own (the extent of his expenses claims outlined in the Telegraph here.)

 Comments on his appointment 

A cautious welcome and “improvement on his predecessor” said Jerry Hayes (barrister and former Tory MP)

An assessment and initial analysis in this article in Legal Voice

A piece by Tom Smith (writing for the Justice Gap) looked at the ongoing battle with criminal legal aid contracting and asked whether the approach to Gove should be Conciliation or revolution?

There was certainly nothing conciliatory in Frankie Boyle’s description of Gove as a tree-frog escaping a scrotum…

A website with opportunity to slap Michael Gove was launched and continues to attract regular hits (viaThis link.)

First speech

On 23 June Gove delivered his first policy speech since appointment, describing a “two-tier” system of justice.
My reaction via BBC News in this clip.

He identified the problem, but not the cause of the problem, making no mention of the Legal Aid cuts which led to two-tier justice.  He also failed to identify the solution (proper funding) , instead preferring to focus on “improved technology and increased digitalisation” and the notion that there might be more “pro-bono” work from better-paid commercial lawyers who may want to dabble in social justice.

Gove and Prison Reform

Gove was a huge improvement on his predecessor, apparently wanting to take a constructive approach to a prison service in crisis. Eventually there were reforms set out in Queen’s speech (May 2016) but lacking the investment needed to really tackle the problems. He had however already overturned Grayling’s ridiculed and unlawful  prison book ban.
Gove and Legal Aid 

Gove initially appeared set on implementing further cuts to Legal Aid, albeit by continuing with the proposals of his disastrous predecessor Grayling. He  declined to cancel the 8.75% cut which came into effect on 1st July, leading to a series of firms refusing to act in what was to all intents and purposes a Legal Aid Strike. Jack of Kent summarised the issues in his excellent blog “Gove and the Lawyers revolt.”

After several weeks of the Criminal Lawyer’s strike, the representative bodies (LCCSA and CLSA) were invited to meet Gove- a step forward from Grayling who would not engage. Further talks with MoJ were offered, and action was suspended as a “goodwill gesture”. Finally, the offer from Gove was communicated in September- a suspension of the latest 8.75% cut for three months, from January 2016. Tendering proceeded for “two-tier” contracts, and contract awards were made -but on a flawed basis. Unsuccessful bidders launched legal actions (for outcome, see “ending two-tier” below)

In the meantime….

Gove squandered taxpayers cash on empty Courts, with Courts closed to save money, but many remaining unsold (reported in the daily Mirror.)

MOJ and the Saudi contract

Goves efforts to extricate the MOJ from Graylings ill-judged commercial contracts with a despotic regime are explained here in an article by Jack of Kent.

Poetry

Poem for Mr Gove (published on National Poetry Day last year)

Gove’s Visit to Highbury Court

In January 2016 the Lord Chancellor visited Highbury Corner Magistrates Court, with an army of  civil servants and advisers. He visited the Advice Service based at that Court, and every department but met no representative of the Defence Advocates. I attempted to engage him, and was able to present him with a letter offering to meet:-

We were advised that Mr Gove was indeed willing to meet a representative of the London Defence Community, for an informal constructive chat, and his advisers would set up a meeting as soon as possible. That was confirmed in several emails, but never happened. Gove was invited to the LCCSA Summer Party, but failed to attend and was replaced with a G(l)ove puppet.

Ending Two-tier contracting!

In January 2016 Gove finally abandoned Grayling’s plans for a two-tier justice system with this announcement. This was welcomed by most solicitors (see eg LCCSA comment) Detail and comment in this piece in Solicitors Journal.

Gove and Grayling

Cancelling two tier, ending the prisoner book ban and Saudi contract (above) and the Criminal Court Charge, meant that at least six of Grayling’s main policy disasters were now overturned. Read this useful summary of the top 6 reversals -within six months! Gove 6, Grayling 0

Missing in Action: Gove and Brexit

In February, Gove came out (in this Spectator Article) as a key cheerleader for the “Leave” campaign in the proposed referendum. For the next four months he was never out of the news- usually alongside Boris- as that toxic campaign rumbled on. I do not intend to include Brexit in this blog- suffice to say that tumbleweed blew around the MOJ offices, and most legal aid lawyers were just relieved to be left alone in peace and quiet, as were Human Rights lawyers (see below)

Gove and Human Rights

Abolishing the Human Rights Act was seen by some commentators as both the most urgent and most difficult task in Gove’s in-tray (see eg this analysis by Joshua Rozenberg) In practice, Gove (sensibly) did absolutely nothing about it.

The Gove Committee

During his period of MOJ abstinence Lawyers received the news about the “advisory committee” that Gove had promised in January (above) – but not from Mr Gove or even the MOJ – but from the apparent chair, Gove’s friend Gary Bell QC (aka “The legalizer“)  in this article (TLS Gazette 24/05/16)   Mr Bell appeared to have selected members of the Bar-dominated committee himself, comprising friends, colleagues and an instructing solicitor, leading the Law Society to question the diversity of the panel. Read more about Bell (and his controversial views on Solicitor-Advocates) here.

Personal Life

Gove is married to DailyMail journalist Sarah Vine, a glimpse into their relationship was offered by an email from her to Gove that was accidentally sent to the wrong address and then published, as described here (Guardian, 29/06/16). See also her account of the day after Brexit as Reported in the Daily Mail on the same day.

Tory Leadership bid

On 30 June Gove announced he was standing as a candidate to be the Conservative Party Leader (and therefore if successful, Prime Minister) . He did not resign as Justice Secretary. By 7th July he was out of the running, failing to attract support and generally ridiculed for his disloyalty. He was proved right about one thing – he was unsuitable to be PM.

Meanwhile, judging by the content it appears that somebody other than Mr Gove had registered the Gove2016 website…..

Sacked

Post Brexit vote, Gove was now a Minister waiting for the axe. He had unfinished business that had been on hold during his electioneering- continuing  prison reform, and perhaps reforming the Court of Appeal (as argued by Julie Price in this powerful piece in the Justice Gap.)  Theresa May sacked Gove in appointing her initial cabinet, having assumed office the previous day.

Conclusion

Gove deserves two cheers, one for leaving human rights and legal aid alone, and another for positive noises on prison rehabilitation. Whether those noises amount to genuine reform is doubtful – see this analysis  (in “the Justice Gap”)

Confounding expectations, Michael Gove was a better Justice Secretary than most criminal lawyers or legal aid lawyers could have hoped for,  largely because he was an improvement on Grayling, which was admittedly a low threshold.

Michael Gove spent the first half of his tenure undoing the damage inflicted by his predecessor and the second half doing very little. 

On that basis alone, he was quickly missed, and initial assessments of his successor were underwhelming -see this assessment of Liz Truss.

Gove-Post Justice Secretary

Gove returned to journalism, writing for the Times. He had been a staunch cheerleader for Rupert Murdoch, even during the Leveson enquiry (leading to this call by Ian Hislop for an investigation)

He returned to the cabinet following May’s ill- judged “snap election” in June 2017.

More GOVE

The classic video of “Michael Gove falling over” (a YouTube classic)

Gove at Oxford Union Debating Society reveals what is under his kilt, and in so doing reveals also his character (Here)

An unfortunate encounter with salt here

Below- an effigy of Mr Gove making an appearance at a Save UK Justice rally, January 2016

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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.

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

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

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

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

The Fight to Save Legal Aid

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

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

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

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Footnote

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

We  kept fighting until Grayling had his day. Chris Grayling was demoted after the election, and replaced by Michael Gove.

Now, we are gearing up to fight, campaign, demonstrate and if necessary strike again.

Maybe we will soon have or organise a Truss day…