Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

6Dec 2023

Covid-19 Inquiry: Liz Davies KC questions Dominic Raab

6th December 2023|

On 29 November 2023, Liz Davies KC and Marina Sergides, instructed by the Public Interest Law Centre, submitted questions on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid.

Questions were put in areas relating to domestic abuse as a public health matter, key workers, equality impact assessments (EIA), and government messaging on domestic abuse during lockdown.

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Questions from Liz Davies KC to Dominic Raab MP

Equality Impact Assessments (EIA)

The first question Liz Davies KC asked Dominic Raab was about his opinion on equality impact assessments (EIA) and – in relation to a ‘deep dive’ meeting he chaired on 29 April which looked forward to the end of lockdown – if any consideration was given to the possibility of domestic abuse emerging if couples self-isolated for 14 days.

Dominic Raab replied: “I think it’s an important objective, of course, to see the disproportionate impact on members of our society, or specific communities, of measures we’re taking or indeed the pandemic as a whole.  Whether the EIAs discharge that effectively I think is a moot point.

“[…] We were certainly — I certainly remember reflected on the fact that the lockdowns had a varying effect on, if I can put it this way, family harmony. You had quite a few people, if I could say this, typically middle class families — and I heard a lot of this in my own constituency — for whom lockdown was an epiphany moment because they spent more time as a family.  Now, there were all sorts of challenges and hardships, of course, but there was something rather positive about that. I think there were also, we were very conscious, would be other communities and households in other parts of the country where the experience was that actually the combustible nature of what was going on in the home, whether it was because of mental health challenges or whether it was because of domestic tensions and domestic abuse, where that was very different. Quite whether an EIA would have picked that up and what would it have told us that we could have done about it, I think is another question. But I don’t remember, and forgive me, on that specific deep dive of 29 April quite what the EIA said, or indeed if it was conducted.”

Responding to Dominic Raab’s comment, Liz Davies KC replied: “I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply this, but domestic abuse happens in middle class families as well as non-middle class families, of course.”

Government messaging around lockdown

The second question Liz Davies KC asked regarded an address to the nation Dominic Raab made on 16 April about the extension of lockdown for three weeks. During the address – delivered while Raab was acting Prime Minister – he did not mention the “You Are Not Alone” campaign launched by then-Home Secretary Priti Patel five days earlier, nor inform domestic abuse survivors that they could leave home during lockdown.

Dominic Raab replied: “Inevitably, you have a very limited period of time because actually those press conferences were also supposed to be about taking questions, not just talking to the public, so inevitably we couldn’t contain every caveat to the headline advice; it just wasn’t manageable.  I thought the Home Secretary had really spelt it out very clearly, we felt we’d landed that message.  Of course you would always want to reinforce it, but there was probably a whole range of things where if I’d have gone down and itemised every element of the advice, we would have been there for a disproportionate period of time, and that wouldn’t have served the purpose of the press conference and landing the messages because I think people would have drifted off, frankly, and that was our experience if those became too unwieldy.  So it wasn’t — I think we did land that message and I think we continued it in our comms more generally, and it certainly — because it wasn’t in every press conference or indeed that particular one didn’t — I don’t think it’s fair to read into that a deprioritisation or it being a lower level of importance.

“I think with all of those groups that suffered disproportionately you can always look back and think, “Well, I wish I’d have done — said a bit more”, but in the end we only had a limited space within which to craft our message and deliver it, and that was true at a whole range of points.  You know, you inevitably have to editorialise your message.  But certainly we were very mindful throughout that there was this, if you like, simmering issue of domestic abuse and that lockdown was clearly making it worse, and we wanted to try and make sure that the lines of communication practically were there for anyone that needed that critical help.”

Questions from Marina Sergides to Professor Jenny Harries

Prioritised testing for frontline VAWG workers

The first question Marina Sergides put forward to Professor Jenny Harries – England’s deputy chief medical officer during the pandemic – was whether workers in refuge accommodation or domestic abuse charities were prioritised for testing.

Jenny Harries replied:  “I can’t answer that one directly.  I mean, there are two issues there about key workers and who was a frontline worker and then, sort of, the implementation of the testing programme.  There was quite a lot of consideration, I think, in NHS Test and Trace — again, I wasn’t there at the time — about where that risk lay and who needed to be tested.  Obviously, there were many different use cases and there was a certain flexibility whilst working with directors of public health that if they wished to — you know, if they could identify groups because it would, as you know, vary in different geographies that they could direct testing in those cases.  But I think that’s probably all I can say to help.”

Impacts of lockdown on domestic abuse

Marina Sergides’ second question to Jenny Harries asked what the government should have considered in relation to domestic abuse when deciding social isolation and/or lockdown measures, in the context of an example Sir Chris Whitty previously gave of people who had shielded before required then experienced loneliness and depression, resulting in clinical and public health problems.

Jenny Harries replied:  “I think I probably have answered the question because in that particular case, to my mind, it is foreseeable and we can imagine what’s going to happen and I think you will probably be representing people who experienced those increases in calls just beforehand.  And therefore I think some of the messaging was not as clear as it could have been to make sure that people understood that they could come out of isolation.  There clearly was a course out and I think it was considered within that, I’m not sure that if I was somebody frightened, you know, in a domestic abuse situation and about to go into lockdown, that I would perhaps have clocked that the message that says “for an emergency” actually applied to me.”

Find the full transcript at: https://covid19.public-inquiry.uk/documents/transcript-of-module-2-public-hearing-on-29-november-2023/

30Nov 2023

Aylesbury Estate challenge on BBC London

30th November 2023|

On Tuesday 28 November Public Interest Law Centre represented Ms Aysen Dennis in a Judicial Review claim challenging the demolition of the Aylesbury council estate by Southwark Council and Notting Hill Genesis.

Ahead of the Judicial Review hearing residents and local campaigners protested the regeneration of the Aylesbury estate outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

Protesters demanded an end to the redevelopment of the estate in favour of refurbishment, chanting: ‘housing is a human right, not a privilege’.

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Outcome

Mr Justice Holgate reserved judgment to be delivered as soon as ‘physically’ possible.

Ms Dennis states:

“Aylesbury estate was built for working class communities to live safely and securely. Now it is the site of a battle between our communities, and the councils and private developers who seek to demolish and privatise our homes. We cannot allow them to spread insecurity and socially cleanse us. We demand no demolition, no privatisation – refurbishment, security and justice!”

Alexandra Goldberg states:

“Developers should not be able to chop and change plans on a whip, communities want to see what they have been promised followed through”.

This work is part of PILC’s Gentrification Project: Supporting access to justice in the class-based transformation of urban space  

Ms Dennis’ legal team is:

Alexandra Goldenberg and Saskia O’Hara of the Public Interest Law Centre.

Jenny Wigley KC and Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers.

Footage: BBC London News

Reported by: Frankie McCamley

Edited for PILC by: Pete Hill

30Jan 2023

Gentrification project launch: supporting access to justice in the class-based transformation of urban space

30th January 2023|

For a number of years we have been active in supporting local residents and grassroots campaigns in challenging injustice stemming from gentrification.  This includes opposing the loss of secure council tenancies, challenging undemocratic exercises in estate redevelopment (including inadequate consultations and resident ballots), contesting the loss of community assets such as greenspace and demanding that the Greater London Authority create a Resident Empowerment Fund to level the playing field between residents, local authorities and private developers.

As well as bringing legal challenges based on public and planning law, we have supported residents by offering:

  • legal education on key terminology and the redevelopment process
  • help to draft submissions on planning applications
  • media assistance
  • support with crowdfunding

Our contribution aims to support local residents and campaigns to shift the power balance which is so weighted in the favour of privatisation, infill and demolition.  As community lawyers, we seek to be on the ground with campaigners, offering legal services as one tool or tactic amongst others in a campaign.

We have previously supported campaigns in the Elephant and Castle regeneration in Southwark, the Carpenters Estate in Newham, Juniper Crescent in Camden and the Save Brownswell Green in Barnet. We have called for a London-wide Resident Empowerment Fund.  We are currently supporting residents of the Central Hill estate in Lambeth and a number of other areas.

Now, thanks to funding secured from Tudor Trust and Trust for London we are officially launching a ‘gentrification project’ which hopes to expand on this existing work.    

This project will complement PILC’s  work on homelessness and housing, including legal challenges against deceitful council housing schemes, overcrowded and unsafe temporary accommodation, and harmful practices as well as reports on gatekeeping and publications on solidarity-based approaches.

Find out more information about the gentrification issues we are working on here.

How do we work with communities on these types of cases?  Find out here.

Want to get in touch about gentrification issues you are facing?  Please contact Alexandra Goldenberg Alexandra.Goldenberg@pilc.org.uk and Saskia O’Hara saskia.ohara@pilc.org.uk

27Sep 2021

Support PILC at London Legal Walk!

27th September 2021|

We are proud to be taking part in the 2021 London Legal Walk, organised by the London Legal Support Trust.

PILC advisers on an outreach visit with colleagues from Museum of Homelessness and Streets Kitchen

On Monday 18 October staff, volunteers and friends of PILC will walk ten kilometres through central London to raise money for free frontline legal advice services.

Austerity and ‘hostile environment’ policies have made life next to impossible for some of the most vulnerable people in the UK. After Brexit and Covid-19, and with judicial review under threat in 2021, supporting access to justice for marginalised communities has never been more important.

PILC has a unique role as the only UK law centre specialising in public law challenges to unfair government policies and practices. We also offer a radical voice around issues such as state surveillance, homelessness and gentrification.

Founded in 2016, we are a young organisation. We need your support as we continue to grow our dedicated team of solicitors, caseworkers & researchers.

Please help us hit our £750 fundraising by following this link and donating to our LLW appeal!