In the News
“It seems hard to believe that Grayling will remain Lord Chancellor for long”. Joshua Rozenberg delivered a biting analysis of the minister’s future legacy in the Law Gazette last week. As the General Election looms, “perhaps Cameron has finally begun to realise how much anger and despair there is at the steady erosion in access to justice for which Grayling is held responsible”. If the Conservatives lead the next government, the Lord Chancellor will struggle to secure his place, Rozenberg warns.
Not only has Grayling’s draft British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities been shelved until after the election, but his court fees hike of up to 600% has left many “natural conservatives” smarting. Mathias Cheung similarly criticises such “enhanced” court fees, as the latest blade in his ‘arsenal of justice-axing statutory instruments’. The Law Society has already begun its push for judicial review: if the Lord Chancellor doesn’t “return to a genuine respect for the Magna Carta”, he must “prepare for imminent defeat in court”.
Last week’s publishing of the “devastating” report on civil legal aid certainly hasn’t helped matters, writes Rozenberg. The exceptional cases funding scheme under the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012) – Grayling’s supposed safety-net provision – has led to “possible miscarriages of justice”, with only 151 applications granted out of 2,090 made in an 18-month period. Grayling’s guidance on the scheme has on two occasions been ruled unlawful. Whilst the report shows Grayling achieved his £2bn savings, the question “but at what cost?” might prove his political quietus.
In Other News….
- Barrister Jon Holbrook calls for race-discrimination laws to be abolished in the workplace, writing in Spiked. In support of comments made by Nigel Farage, Holbrook argues current anti-discrimination laws “promote equality of outcome”, which is inimical to a “meritocratic workplace”.
- The ECtHR has refused Stephen Gough – the notorious “naked rambler” – permission for a new hearing, following the Court’s finding last October that his repeated imprisonment for social nudity did not violate his ECHR rights under Articles 8 or 10.
- Tom Hickman and Maurice Sunkin debunk the MOJ myth that 1% of judicial claims succeeded in 2014. The statistic only shows how “few cases lodged actually make it to a final hearing”, ignoring the high rate of favourable pre-trial settlements, and the “effective” permission threshold.
- Criminal lawyers are preparing for further strikes, following the Court of Appeal’s rejection of a judicial review of further legal aid reforms last week (25th March). The latest defeat gives the green light to government plans to cut legal aid contracts for law firms, with some 1,000 firms likely to be lost. LCCSA president, Jonathan Black, has signalled it as a “devastating carve-up of solicitor representation’’.
- The Human Rights Act isn’t just about good intentions – it’s producing “real-world benefits”, writes Natalie Threlfall. In light of the “climate of confusion” about the Act, The British Institute for Human Rights has launched their new campaign, “March for Human Rights”, which can be joined here.
In the Courts:
- Coventry & Ors v Lawrence & Another  UKSC 76
The Supreme Court heard the much-anticipated final appeal of Coventry v Lawrence last month. The case, concerning an underlying nuisance claim, first reached the Supreme Court last year, where it considered the compatibility of the costs recovery system (implemented under the Access to Justice Act 1999) with Article 6 (the right to a fair trial). In a surprising volte-face, Lord Neuberger observed the “malign influence” of the Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) regime, and its “very disturbing” tail of costs. The hearing was adjourned until the 9th-12th January 2015, where it was heard with 8 intervening parties. Though the judgment is not expected until July, any finding of incompatibility will be considerable, with the government facing prolific compensation claims from “victims of the provisions”.
- R (on the application of SG and others (previously JS and others)) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  UKSC 16
Legislation imposing a cap on welfare benefits for claimants in non-working households did not violate their ECHR rights, the Supreme Court held last week. The court considered whether such a cap – predominantly affecting single female parents, a group which includes many victims of domestic violence – was indirectly discriminatory. Whilst noting that the 2012 Regulations did have a differential impact on men and women, they were found to be both lawful and justified in seeking to curb public expenditure and incentivise those out of work to find employment. Lady Hale’s dissenting judgment finds particular support here.
- Young Legal Aid Lawyers: 10-Year Anniversary
YLAL will be celebrating their 10th anniversary with a special symposium on 23rd April 2015. The keynote speech will be delivered by Baroness Patricia Scotland QC, followed by a panel debate on access to justice after the election, with speakers including Andy Slaughter MP. Register for the event here.
- ‘Human Rights Beneath the Headlines’
As part of their ‘March for Human Rights’ campaign, the British Institute of Human Rights will be hosting a series of evening events, in which commonly reported human rights stories will be discussed and scrutinised against the facts. The next event will be held on 29th April 2015. Audience members are encouraged to email their questions about particular reports or cases in advance of the event. More details can be found here.
If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, email Jim Duffy at firstname.lastname@example.org.