YLAL Meeting Minutes from Sheffield 13.04.2016

Introduction to Sheffield’s first YLAL meeting of 2016!

Since the last meeting, a brief update was provided on what the Sheffield YLAL group had been up to and included the following: -

i)               Human Rights Tour with British Institute of Human Rights

YLAL were invited to support the Human Rights Tour, organised by the British Institute of Human Rights. This was a tour taking place across the UK for BIHR to unravel some of the myths surrounding human rights law to members of the public.

The tour was focused in Autumn 2015 because on 2 October 2000 our Human Rights Act became law, protecting universal human rights across the UK. BIHR’s Human Rights Tour celebrated this important anniversary and how the Human Rights Act has made a difference to our democracy and people’s lives across the UK.

It was a great event to be a part of and to spread the word about how important our Human Rights Act is!

From this meeting in Sheffield YLAL also signed the Civil Society Letter which was published in The Times on Human Rights Day on 10 December 2015.

YLAL are currently in discussions with BIHR so that they can hopefully come and speak to us at one of our meetings about the work they do and how people can get involved and support them.

ii)              Justice Panel Discussions at Sheffield Hallam University

We were invited to attend the panel discussions to give YLAL’s perspective on who should fund access to justice since the introduction of LASPO. Should it be the state? Charities? Or lawyers? We were really privileged to be invited and put our viewpoint across. Others on the panel included a barrister specialising in public law, the Chief Executive of Personal Support Unit, the Chief Executive of Law Works, a student from Sheffield Hallam University and Lord Justice Briggs.

It was really interesting to hear what each panel member had to say about prospective options which could bridge the gap for legal assistance since LASPO. A lot of discussion took place around charities and law firms bridging the gap for legal services but overall, it was felt that this wouldn’t be sufficient to replace legal aid which supported hundreds of thousands of individuals across the UK each year.

iii)            Discussions at Sheffield Hallam University about YLAL and impact for Junior Lawyers

We delivered a presentation to the students of SHU explaining the role of YLAL, how they could get involved and spreading the word about access to justice. We also discussed briefly about the proposed 'Solicitors Qualifying Examination' (or SQE), a common professional assessment to be taken immediately prior to qualification as a solicitor. The aim of introducing the SQE would be to “ensure that all aspiring solicitors, no matter what institution they attended or pathway they took, are assessed against the same high standard of competence”.

The consultation closed on 4 March 2016 and YLAL submitted this response to provide the SRA with views from junior and aspiring legal aid lawyers. Following the closure of the consultation, the SRA announced it will pause and “rethink” its proposals, as reported here by the Law Society Gazette.

Guest Speakers - Overview

Matthew Stanbury, Barrister at Garden Court North Chambers

“Making a Miscarriage (of Justice) The case of Victor Nealon”

·       Victor Nealon spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The state refuses to pay him compensation for this.

·       Mr Stanbury discussed the facts of the case and outlined the evidence obtained, and the facts which were brought to light at trial. This included the evidence such as ID parades, witness evidence, exhibits of clothing and DNA evidence.

·       Nealon’s appeal was heard in order to test the exhibits which were obtained at the time of the alleged offence.

·       After a second appeal was heard, the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction and stated:

“We are clear in our view that if the jury had heard that in addition to the weaknesses in the identification evidence, it was a real possibility that DNA from a single “unknown male” had been found in some of the key places where the attacker had “mauled” the victim…this could well have led to the applicant’s acquittal”.

·       Matthew then discussed s.133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which created a scheme whereby victims of a miscarriage of justice would be compensated where it can be shown that there was a new fact(s) which shows beyond doubt that there had been a miscarriage of justice.

·       It was noted that under the old law of Adams, this was defined as: “A new fact will show that a miscarriage of justice has occurred when it so undermines the evidence against the defendant that no conviction could possibly be based upon it”.

·       In 2012 legislation was passed creating a new definition of “miscarriage of justice” as follows: “if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person did not commit the offence”.

·       The word “innocent” was omitted.

·       Matthew explained that challenges were made regarding this legislation as it was thought that it breached the presumption of innocence, echoed within Article 6(2) ECHR. The challenges are ongoing.

·       YLAL would be interested to hear from Matthew once these challenges have been heard at court.

Jo Wardle, Co-Ordinator of PSU in Sheffield

·       Jo delivered a discussion on the impact of LASPO and the rise of litigants in person. We were also given an insight into the types of work volunteers do to support litigants in person from a volunteer at the Sheffield PSU branch.

·       YLAL were interested to learn whether PSU had seen a rise in litigants in person since the introduction of LASPO.

·       Jo advised that since 2013, the rise in supporting litigants in persons in Sheffield has increased by 80% each year.

·       The demand for their services has jumped from 18,785 in 2013 to 34,700 in 2014.

·       Due to this increasing demand, PSU are heavily reliant upon the support of local volunteers. If anyone is interested in volunteering for the PSU please refer to their website www.thepsu.org

We also raised Amnesty's week of action for The Human Rights Act. You can find some useful resources about this here:   

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/resources/human-rights-act-campaign-week-action-9-16-april#.VxtXX8h4XCQ

Alex Jagger of Amnesty Sheffield has said they are interested in working with other organisations and people to campaign on keeping the HRA. If you would like to get more involved with this work please let Sinead or Carita know.

Next Meeting

·       Thursday 16 June 2016 at 6pm at the Irwin Mitchell Offices in Sheffield with guest speakers from Mark George QC, Barrister and head of Garden Court North Chambers discussing the Hillsborough Inquests and Yogi Amin, Partner and Head of Public Law at Irwin Mitchell, giving an overview of the impacts of LASPO in Public Law.

Once again, a huge thank you to our guest speakers attending and delivering extremely interesting talks in such influential areas of law!

Further thanks to LAPG for providing us with their fantastic articles for the meeting!

YLAL Sheffield looks forward to welcoming those to our next meeting in June.