YLAL June meeting minutes

YLAL meeting minutes 10 June 2015

Attendees: Oliver Carter, Heather Thomas, Camilla Graham Wood, Simao Paxi-Cato, Connor Johnston, Charlie Image, Lydia Andrews, Maia Cohen-Lask, Emily McFadden, Alp Gokturk, Subashini Nathan, Miranda Grell, Franck Magennis, Noemie Adam, Michael Goldin, Richard Bottomley, Andrew Lingard, Susanne Seaton, Verity Quaite, Aine Kervick, Joe Morgan, Michael Etienne, Hannah Manson, Ornina Kassem, Laura Wrixon and others.

1. Welcome and introduction

2. Campaigning for human rights

a) Michael Etienne from Liberty spoke about Liberty’s campaign in support of the Human Rights Act (HRA). He told us that in response to the attack on the HRA by the new government Liberty launched "Save Our HRA", a nationwide campaign to get people to lobby MPs, raise the profile of HRA and to explain why it is important that the HRA is not repealed.

The government has now said that it will not bring forward a "British Bill of Rights" immediately. Instead the government intends to consult on repeal of the HRA, with a view (ultimately) to repealing the HRA. Liberty is keen to keep HRA in the media, as it is expected that the consultation may open in September.

There is an HRA pledge to gather support from organisations, NGOs, charities and other groups, for the HRA and to oppose its repeal. You can read Liberty’s briefing paper on the HRA, as well as their step-by-step guide to the Conservative Party’s British Bill of Rights.

b) Martha Spurrier (Doughty Street Chambers) on the #ActfortheAct

Martha explained that the aim of #ActfortheAct is to reach out to the public to show that the HRA is for everyday people with everyday problems. Yougov undertook research, which found that a significant number of people are undecided about the importance of or need for the HRA. The poster campaign is for real people from real people who have benefited saying what the HRA did for them. The format is "This wrong thing happened to me, I used HRA to make it right".

@ActfortheAct's aim was to raise £50,000 for posters for tube stations and national rail train stations. They would also be interested in hearing from lawyers who have clients who may be interested getting involved with the campaign; their Crowdfunder link is here. #ActfortheAct raised £55,870 by 12 June 2015. As the target of £50,000 was pledged, there will also be a bus campaign for three cities.

Posters will be published in time for the return of Parliament in early October 2015.

3. Roundup of Legal Aid judicial reviews

a) Charlie and Maia updated us on the criminal legal aid contracts.

Charlie explained the two types of clients in criminal legal aid firms: "duty" and "own" clients. The government announced proposals to introduce two tier contracts to separate own and duty contracts; reduce firms to 525; and, introduce 17.5% fee cuts in 8.5% tranches. LCCSA and CLSA launched a judicial review to challenge this. As a result, the government had to disclose reports undertaken in support of this proposal. Then the government increased contracts to 527. Following this, there was another judicial review, which the Law Society joined. This was lost, although there was an injunction on further cuts. On 8 June 2015 the government asked for information from firms regarding the first 8.75% cut's effect.

Maia: in a recent press release said that the government will make the 8.75% cut with an independent review of the cuts in 2016. CBA balloted a few weeks ago; 96% of members voted to strike if the cuts went ahead went ahead. Many feel that the Government is attempting to divide and rule with a cut for solicitors but not for barristers. Northern Ireland started action a few weeks ago, adopting a “no returns” policy. Communications between bodies, huge divide between CBA and others.

****UPDATE: On 1 July 2015 the further 8.75% cut to solicitors’ litigators fee came into effect. From this date many solicitors’ firms and barristers’ chambers are refusing to take on new work. Many chambers have also adopted a “no returns” policy. The CBA is balloting its members with the following question:

Solicitors face an 8.75% cut to litigators fees. In support of solicitors, do you wish to go back to ‘no returns’ and also refuse all new work with a representation order dated from 1st July 2015 until such time as solicitors decide not to take further action in respect of that cut?  Yes/No

CBA members can vote here. The ballot closes on 14 July 2015.

b) Simao updated us on the residence test challenge.

The Government tried to introduce proposals to restrict civil legal aid to those with 'sufficient connection to U.K', this is often referred to as the “residence test”. Following a judicial review brought by the Public Law Project, the Divisional Court found that this “residence test” was unlawful. The press release can be found here. The Government has appealed this decision. The appeal is due to be heard in October in the Court of Appeal.

c) Martha updated us on legal aid for prison law challenge brought by Prisoner’s Advice Service (PAS) and Howard League.

This challenge was brought following far-reaching cuts to legal aid funding for numerous areas of prison law. PAS and Howard League maintain that these cuts are unfair and unlawful. Although prisoners can still access judicial review, PAS and Howard League argue that prisoners will never get to a judicial review, nor is it a suitable remedy. The claimants were refused permission to bring a judicial review at an oral hearing last year. The claimants were granted permission to appeal this decision to the Court of Appeal, but were not granted permission for judicial review. An oral permission hearing is due to take place in the second week of July.

d) Connor updated us on 'no permission, no payment' for judicial review.

New regulations were brought in in April 2014 with the stated intention to stop left wing lawyers bringing spurious judicial reviews. However, the effect of the regulations was to stop meritorious judicial reviews from being brought by restricting payment to those judicial reviews for which permission is granted. The challenge to these regulations succeeded on 3 March 2015. The High Court gave three examples of why the regulations are unlawful. On Monday 23 March 2015 the High Court granted relief to the claimants, quashing the regulations. On Friday 27 March 2015 new regulations were issued incorporating the three examples cited by the High Court. The regulations still involve a financial risk to legal representatives brining judicial reviews, but slightly less of a risk than before.

Irwin Mitchell brought a challenge to the delays in assessing Personal Independence Payments. The challenge was refused permission, but, following an oral renewal, the challenge went to a full hearing and won.

e) Ollie updated us on the Exceptional Case Funding and Inquests Guidance

Exceptional Case Funding (ECF)

The ECF regime was successfully challenged in the case of Gudanaviciene and others v The Director of Legal Aid Casework [2014] EWCA Civ 1622.

On Wednesday 8 July 2015 at 6 pm, we are hosting a special seminar focussing on exceptional funding under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) following the case of Gudanaviciene and others v The Director of Legal Aid Casework [2014] EWCA Civ 1622. The seminar will be led by Roopa Tanna, Paul Bowen QC and Alison Pickup: three expert practitioners who were all involved in the case, which involved a successful challenge to the Lord Chancellor’s policy on granting legal aid in immigration cases to avoid a breach of Art.8 ECHR.

Inquests

In February of this year, a judgement was handed down by the high court on the post LASPO guidance for exceptional funding to represent families at inquests. The Lord Chancellor's guidance, which was an amendment to the pre LASPO guidance was found to have 'material errors' and the threshold set for securing funding was too high.

PLP have brought new challenge against The exceptional funding scheme as a whole, representing one of the vulnerable Claimants in Gudanaviciene. They were arguing that the process is inaccessible, and have over 70 witness statements in support of the grounds.

f) Heather- Domestic violence eligibility criteria

In family law there is still legal aid for Public Law Children cases (care proceedings), but legal aid for Private Law Children cases (child arrangements, previously known as contact and residence) has now been removed. Legal aid remains in scope for victims of domestic violence. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) brought in regulations setting out specific evidence criteria in order to “prove” domestic violence. Rights of Women challenged these evidential criteria by way of judicial review. The challenge was dismissed by the Divisional Court. An appeal is awaited.

4. CCMS

CCMS (Client and Cost Management System) is a new IT system to be rolled out by the LAA through which all applications for legal aid funding are to be made online bringing a close to the paper based application process. The system has been piloted for the last two years with legal aid providers have reporting huge numbers of problems, including: applications taking up to five times longer than paper-based applications. CCMS was due to become mandatory in October 2015, but following widespread concerns and the system being described as not fit for purpose, the LAA has put that date back to February 2016.

5. Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards (LALYs)

On 1 July 2015 the legal aid community celebrated the work of grassroots lawyers at the LALYs 2015.

Huge congratulations to Connor Johnston, former co-chair and current committee member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers who won the Legal Aid Newcomer.

Many congratulations are also due to committee member, Charlotte Image, who was shortlisted for the Children’s Rights award; a hotly contested category with no less than four nominees.

Thank you to all of our brilliant volunteers who helped make the night such a huge success.

6. APPG

Following the election, it is proposed to reinstate the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal Aid which aims to promote parliamentary and public understanding of the role of publicly funded legal services as a pillar of the welfare state and in reducing inequalities in society.

The first formal meeting of the Group will take place between 9.00 and 10.00 am on Wednesday 8th July 2015 in the Jubilee Room, Houses of Parliament. The meeting will be in two parts:

•    Inaugural Election of Officers, in accordance with the new APPG Rules

•    Presentations on the subject of Human Rights and Legal Aid by speakers Paul Bowen QC (Brick Court) and Alison Pickup (Doughty Street Chambers). The speakers will be introduced by Sir Keir Starmer QC, MP.

Light refreshments will be available.

YLAL jointly organises the APPG with the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group. The APPG is a group of MPs who meet monthly in Parliament to debate legal aid issues. The sub-group steers the topics for debate and organises speakers for the meetings. It also coordinates some of our other lobbying of parliamentarians on specific issues related to legal aid. The APPG website is www.apg-legalaid.org.

Please contact ylalinfo@gmail.com for more details, to join our APPG subgroup or to become part of our “pair up with a peer scheme”, lobbying peers on specific issues, motions and consultations.

7. Justice Alliance

The Justice Alliance is an alliance of legal organisations, charities, community groups, grass roots and other campaigning groups, trade unions and individuals who are united in our opposition to the government’s proposed attack on legal aid and the criminal justice system.

We run a subgroup “Justice Alliance subgroup”. We can supply you with postcards to take to events, festivals, or your work place, in support legal aid.

Justice Alliance is currently involved in LiberTeas and The Invisible at Bush Theatre, a play about the cuts to legal aid. Check out the links for details.

8. YLAL outside London

  • YLAL East Midlands event in September at Nottingham
  • YLAL North 2 July and 15 October
  • YLAL Manchester Social Mobility 6 August, Court of Protection September
  • YLAL Newcastle Monday 13 July to organise future meetings
  • YLAL Sheffield social on Friday 12 June
  • YLAL South West, event planning
  • YLAL Wales in the pipeline!

There's always a full list of our meetings on our website here

9. YLAL blogs

We run a number of blogs, including: Thanks to Legal Aid and A View from the Gravy Train.

Celebrate the success that legal aid can bring for our clients! Following the blog on Twitter at @Thanks2LegalAid and share the link with your friends https://savelegalaid.wordpress.com.

Help challenge the stereotyping of legal aid lawyers as fat cats! Follow the blog on Twitter at @YLAL_GravyTrain and share the link with your friends: viewfromthegravytrain.wordpress.com.

10. AOB

  • Look out for Human Rights Lawyer of the year awards and the Liberty awards.
     
  • The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is consulting on its competence statement. According to the SRA:

A competence statement is a model that defines effective performance within an organisation, profession or sector. Competence statements are usually linked to, and will drive, associated learning and assessment systems.

The Competence Statement we are proposing is intended to capture the key activities required for effective performance as a solicitor. It tells consumers what they can expect from their solicitor and solicitors what activities they should be able to perform competently. It informs education and training providers about what courses they need to develop to train intending or practising solicitors; intending solicitors what they need to demonstrate they can do in order to qualify; and practising solicitors what they need to do to maintain their competence.

This is part of their 'Training for Tomorrow' and within this, Equivalent Means i.e. changes to regulations so that you do not need to do a training contract to qualify as a solicitor. 

The SRA will attend the YLAL September meeting to discuss their review of the Competence Statement and explain how you can get involved. 

Very important if you're interested in access to the profession.

Our next meeting will be at Brick Court chambers at 6pm, with speakers to discuss ECF case of Gudanaviciene. Please register at ylalmembers@gmail.com and see here for details.