YLAL at the LAPG Conference 2009

YLAL hosted two workshops at the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) Conference on Friday 9 October 2009. The sessions, chaired by YLAL Chair Laura Janes, were attended by over 60 students, junior lawyers and other interested conference delegates.

Workshop 1: human rights update

YLAL hosted two workshops at the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) Conference on Friday 9 October 2009. The sessions, chaired by YLAL Chair Laura Janes, were attended by over 60 students, junior lawyers and other interested conference delegates.

Workshop 1: human rights update

Phil Shiner (Public Interest Lawyers) opened the workshop with a talk about his case R (on the application of Al-Sweady and Others) v Secretary of State for Defence, which concerns allegations that British soldiers killed 20 Iraqi civilians and tortured another nine who were detained following ‘the battle of Danny Boy’, a fire fight between British soldiers and Iraqi insurgents at a vehicle checkpoint in Iraq on 14 May 2004. On 3 July 2009 the Secretary of State for Defence conceded in High Court proceedings that there must be an independent inquiry into the accusations. The concession was made during the ongoing judicial review hearing which commenced on 22 April 2009 but which has been forced to adjourn on a number of occasions due to the Government’s failure to disclose, until the very last minute, relevant information about the incident. Phil talked about the fact the courts cannot now trust the Government with regard to the issue of disclosure. Al-Swaedy is just one of many cases where it appears civilians have been arrested on little evidence, detained, and subjected to coercive interrogation techniques in the hope they will provide intelligence. Public Interest Lawyers is instructed in 27 such matters. The judgment in Al-Swaedy can be accessed in the weekly law reports.

Paul Troop (Tooks Chambers) talked about control orders and secret evidence. He outlined the role of Special Advocates in proceedings where special evidence is permitted, and the damaging effects secret evidence has on the adversarial litigation process. In hearings where there is secret evidence, the court, defendant and Special Advocate have access to this evidence, and the claimant does not. Due to the advantage available to the defendant in these circumstances, it is inevitable they will redact the evidence as much as possible to their favour if they are so able. Paul explained the key case law in this area, starting with SSHD v MB and AF in the House of Lords, and discussed the subsequent European Court of Human Rights decision in A v United Kingdom, which held that unless the detainee is provided with sufficient information about the allegations against him to enable him to give effective instructions to a Special Advocate, there will be a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. See Paul’s handout HERE.

Kat Craig (Christian Khan Solicitors)
talked about her case of Lois Austin v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, which concerns police powers to control demonstrators. The case concerns the 2001 Mayday anti-globalisation protests in Oxford Circus, where kettling, a technique developed by the police to contain crowds of people, was used to detain 3,000 members of the public, including Ms Austin, inside a police cordon for seven hours with no access to toilets, food or water. Despite repeated requests, Ms Austin, a peaceful protester, was not allowed to leave the area to collect her 11-month old baby from the crèche. Kat explained the significance of this case with respect to the right to protest without risk of arbitrary detention, especially in light of more recent complaints against the police made during the 2009 G20 protests. The House of Lords held that deprivation of liberty had not taken place in Austin. Instead, it was held, there had been a restriction of movement that did not violate Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights. An application has now been made to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. If you are interested in the issues surrounding police powers to control demonstrators, there will be a talk at the College of Law (London) on Thursday 22 October with Paul Lewis (The Guardian) and Phillippa Kauffmann (Doughty Street Chambers).

Martin Howe (Howe & Co Solicitors)
gave a talk on the high-profile Gurkhas case, in which he worked closely with Joanna Lumley and the rest of the Gurkha Justice Campaign to exert pressure on the Government to back down over its discriminatory immigration policy. The policy stated Gurkhas who retired prior to 1997 would not be entitled settlement rights in the UK, whilst those who had retired post-1997 would be so entitled. Martin talked about the Gurkhas involvement in the British military and the sacrifices they have made for the UK (including the loss of 50,000 lives). He explained why he and the rest of the team chose to keep the case in the media at every stage and why talking to politicians was crucial to their successful outcome. The Government lost an opposition day debate, led by the Liberal Democrats, in the House of Commons – the first time Gordon Brown has lost an opposition debate. This paved the way for the final judgment, which allows all Gurkhas equal settlement rights regardless of their retirement date.

Workshop 2: career options in legal aid

Kay Foxall (Southwark Law Centre)
gave a presentation on what is like to undertake a training contract in a law centre. She described the work that she has done so far at Southwark Law Centre, including the policy work she gets to be involved in and her contribution to the administration of the Law Centre. She highlighted the differences between law centres and private practice law firms in terms of working environment, including the practical aspects like working hours and work volume expectations. Kay gave tips on the skills you need to train in a law centre and to make a strong application. See Kay’s PowerPoint presentation HERE.

Sara Chandler (College of Law)
talked about pro bono work at the College of Law and in general. She provided information on NGOs and other organisations that provide opportunities for law students to work on projects relevant to their legal training, and how students should go about getting involved. She discussed the benefits to be gained from doing pro bono, including experiencing case work, doing legal research, and working with vulnerable people with legal problems

Adam Sandell (Matrix Chambers)
, who began his tenancy in September, talked about his experience of pupillage (known at Matrix as ‘traineeship’) and the Bar. He talked about the satisfaction he gets from representing socially marginalised clients in cases relating to their welfare rights and community care, and the opportunities he has had to work also on human rights cases in the higher courts. He gave an insight into the business aspect of the self-employed Bar – where client focus, positive peer relations and commercial awareness are crucial to survive -, and the stress that inevitably arises during the tenancy selection process. Adam recommended gaining some work and life experience between finishing university and going to the Bar. He talked about how his previous career as a GP with the NHS benefited him when he made pupillage applications and started work in chambers.

Gwendolen Morgan (Bindmans LLP)
gave a talk on training as a solicitor in private practice. She discussed her experience as a trainee solicitor at Fisher Meredith LLP, and the joy she got from quality supervision and using her languages during her immigration seat there. Gwendolen also talked about the more menial tasks trainees might be required to do, such as filing proceedings at court, and highlighted the educational value these tasks confer on trainees. Finally she encouraged young lawyers to get involved with Young Legal Aid Lawyers, Legal Aid Practitioners Group and other campaign organisations concerned with practice and funding issues.