YLAL Meeting Minutes 13.04.2016

Attendees Katherine Barnes, Katie Tilet, Eirwen Pierrot, Rachel Etheridge, Francesca Allen, Aileen Redmond, Derek Bernard, Charlotte Bellamy, Susanne Seaton, Frances McCormack, Daniel Cooper, Jenny Mansell, Hannah Gomersall, Radhika Shah, Anastasia Solopova, Nishmita Bhamra, Rebecca Hacker, Peter Walker, Ornina Kassem, Tara Mulcair, Nathan Adams, Tobias Smith, Karolina Rychlicka, Oliver Carter, Rachel Francis, Henry Gaster-Evans, John Briant, Caterina Franchi, Heather Thomas, Anne Shirley Mitchell, Tom Trim, Holly Buick, Marie Monnet, Connor Johnston, Mark Webster, Onika Philip-Adams and others.

1.     Welcome and introduction to the work of Young Legal Aid Lawyers

2.     Talk by Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women

We were delighted to welcome Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women, who spoke about their challenge to the domestic violence eligibility criteria for legal aid. The Court of Appeal ruled on 18 February 2016 that the criteria are unlawful.

Emma spoke about the work of Rights of Women, the background to the case, the court’s judgment and the practical impact that the case will have on victims of domestic abuse. In particular, Emma discussed: the clear evidence base that Rights of Women were able to demonstrate regarding the impact of the cuts; the impact of the case on the relationship between Rights of Women and the Government and parliamentarians; the isolating experience of bringing such a far-reaching judicial review; and, the solidarity and strength required to bring the case.

It was clear that Rights of Women, a small organisation of just eight women working out of a small office in Old Street, punches significantly above its weight. It was fantastic to hear about the progress that has been made to date and the commitment of Rights of Women to providing access to justice for victims of domestic violence. The criteria has recently (after our meeting) been finalized. You can read more in the Legal Aid Handbook here, or see the guidance here.

Attached to these minutes is a copy of the skeleton argument on behalf of Rights of Women and the Court of Appeal judgment.

3.     Talk by Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive of LawCare

We were delighted to welcome Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive Officer of LawCare, to speak about the work of LawCare, a registered charity which provides confidential and free support to members of the legal profession facing personal and professional problems.

You can read more about the brilliant and imperative work of LawCare here. Look out for LawCare on Twitter and other social media during Mental Health Awareness Week when LawCare will be launching their new project working in law schools.

4.     Meeting with Shailesh Vara MP, Minister for Legal Aid

On 17 March 2016 our co-chairs, Ollie and Rachel, met with the Minister for Legal Aid, to discuss social mobility, access to justice, the Government’s review of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), and the residence test.

We put forward powerful statistics and evidence from our members about the impact of the legal aid cuts on social mobility, access to the profession and access to justice. We have since been referred to the Judicial Diversity Committee to discuss diversity and social mobility within the profession.

The Minister was unable to confirm when the Government will review LASPO or to provide any information about the terms of the review. YLAL will contribute to the review when it is published.

5.     The Labour Party Legal Aid Review

We called for volunteers to contribute to the Labour Legal Aid Review. The deadline for submitting written evidence to the Access to Justice Commission set up by Labour to review its policy on legal aid is 29 April 2016. Young Legal Aid Lawyers will be responding to Labour’s call for evidence.

The call for evidence by the Access to Justice Commission, led by Lord Bach, is available here. The questions we need to answer are as follows:

·       In a sentence, what are your biggest concerns about the state of access to justice? Please provide up to three answers.

·       Please outline in more detail the way in which your organisation’s work intersects with the question of access to justice, and the way in which current policy enables and undermines access to justice (up to 1000 words).

·       In a sentence, what practical steps could be taken to ensure access to justice for all was a reality? Please provide up to three answers.

·       Please outline in more detail ideas for practical solutions to the crisis in access to justice. These could range from minor alterations to a radical overhauling of our justice system (up to 3500 words).

We will circulate our final response after it has been submitted.

6.     All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) update

The next meeting of the All Party Group on Legal Aid will take place on Tuesday 17 May 2016 between 3 and 4pm. The meeting will be held in Committee Room 15, Houses of Parliament and will be chaired by Sir Keir Starmer, QC, MP.

Shailesh Vara MP will speak at the meeting. He is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice with responsibility for the Courts and Legal Aid. In July 2015 he was also appointed to the Department for Work and Pensions.

If you would like to get involved, please email us.

7.     YLAL Outside of London

Minutes from Sheffield meeting are here.

8.     YLAL blogs: Thanks to Legal Aid and View from the Gravy Train

We have two blogs. Please submit your stories to View from the Gravy Train and Thanks to Legal Aid.