Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

6Oct 2023

Covid-19 Inquiry: Joint Press Release with Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid

6th October 2023|

JOINT PRESS RELEASE


Solace and Southall Black Sisters give voice to the experiences of domestic abuse survivors and services during the UK’s Covid Inquiry

VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) charities, Solace and Southall Black Sisters are core participants in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry to ensure the voices & experiences of domestic abuse survivors during the pandemic are heard.

Through an opening statement from Garden Court Chambers on Wednesday, the leading VAWG charities told the inquiry that the government failed to fully recognise that for many women & girls, home is not a safe place and that lockdown made an unsafe home even more dangerous.

In evidence to the inquiry on Friday afternoon from Rebecca Goshawk, Solace’s Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs, the two charities highlighted:

  • Whilst the covid-19 pandemic did not cause domestic abuse, it did create the conditions for it to escalate.
  • The Government didn’t take the necessary steps to ensure that domestic abuse victims were protected and were not clear enough that they could leave their home to get help.
  • Migrant victims were particularly vulnerable as they were left with few options to escape as many could not access state support and lived in fear of immigration enforcement.
  • Many women will still be living with the abuse or the mental health challenges as a result of the trauma experienced under lockdowns.

Nahar Choudhury, Solace CEO, says, ‘The pandemic was terrifying and life changing for most of us, and for women and families locked in with their abusers during lock down it was horrifying and for many it was life threatening. We are sharing the experiences of domestic abuse survivors with the inquiry to ensure that Government is better prepared to protect women now and if/when we face the next pandemic.”

Hannana Siddiqui, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research at Southall Black Sisters says “Southall Black Sisters are highlighting the plight of black, ethnic minority and migrant women during and after the pandemic. Migrant women with no recourse to public funds in particularly were in a triple bind of Covid-19, domestic abuse, and deportation and destitution. The Home Office made a positive decision not to lift the NRPF – thus giving the perpetrator more power! We have also submitted written evidence with the aim of making sure that these state failures never happen again in a future pandemic.”   

Helen Mowatt, Solicitor at Public Interest Law Centre, who are supporting Solace and SBS says “The Government failed to properly consult specialist organisations and provide them with the funding needed to respond to the inevitable rise in domestic abuse during the pandemic. This occurred in the context of over a decade of austerity and systemic underfunding of the VAWG sector, when these organisations were already over-stretched and unable to meet demand, local authorities were too often withholding homelessness assistance from women fleeing domestic abuse, and there was insufficient safe and secure housing for survivors.”

“There was no clear messaging that survivors could flee their homes, or any indication of what support was available. Nothing was done to mitigate against the triple threat suffered by migrant survivors without secure immigration status – domestic abuse, the pandemic, and a fear of deportation.”

Note to editors     

You can watch the evidence given by Solace on Friday 6th October here: UK Covid-19 Inquiry – YouTube

For more information on our work or to arrange interviews, please contact

Solace on media@solacewomensaid.org   

For Southall Black Sisters on :

Asmita Sood – asmita@southallblacksisters.co.uk 07775 178056

www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/

About Solace:    

SOLACE is a leading specialist charity in the UK supporting women and children experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence. Whatever form violence comes in, from rape to trafficking to relationships based on psychological or financial control, we work to end it. We know that escaping the effects of violence can be the hardest thing to ever do. That’s why the lifesaving support that Solace provides to 30,000 women, children, and young people each year is so important.    

Website | www.solacewomensaid.org       

Twitter | @SolaceWomensAid      

Facebook | /SolaceWomensAid    

About Southall Black Sisters:

Southall Black Sisters, a not-for-profit, secular and inclusive organisation, was established in 1979 to meet the needs of Black (Asian and African-Caribbean) women. Our aims are to highlight and challenge all forms gender-related violence against women, empower them to gain more control over their lives; live without fear of violence and assert their human rights to justice, equality and freedom.

13Jul 2023

Final publication in Other Voices series launched

13th July 2023|

We are pleased to announce the online publication of the third and final part of PILC’s Other Voices series.

‘England Took Us In’: Polish Rough Sleepers Speak Back takes the form of a dialogue between five Polish men with a history of rough sleeping. (Find a Polish-language version here).

Albert, Andrzej (‘Bieszczady’), Eugeniusz, Eryk (‘Fragles’) and Radek (‘Fontanna’) were members of a Polish-language coffee-mornings group run by PILC in 2021 and 2022. This was a space where Polish speakers who were or had been homeless could come together to share experiences and talk about issues that affected them.

The conversation presented in the booklet ranges widely over themes including: the experience of sleeping rough; trying to find a stable place to live or stay; encounters with support services and immigration enforcement; being a victim of violence; being homeless during Covid-19; and working in the black and grey economies.

We hope ‘England Took Us In’ will offer activists, lawyers, homelessness workers and scholars—among others—valuable insight into the experience and analysis of homeless non-UK nationals. We’re extremely grateful to Albert, Andrzej, Eugeniusz, Eryk, and Radek for their eloquence, trust and patience throughout the process of preparing this publication.

In September 2023 we will hold a launch event to mark the publication of a limited run of print copies of the booklet and to celebrate the PILC clients, friends and comrades who have contributed to all three parts of the Other Voices series.  

Please watch this space for further announcements about the launch event!

About the Other Voices series:

Litigation is at the core of PILC’s work. We bring legal cases on behalf of oppressed groups & individuals and in solidarity with grassroots activists fighting for radical change. In our short lifetime we’ve won victories that have helped counter some of the worst excesses of state surveillance, social cleansing, gender-based violence & structural racism.

The courts are a necessary terrain in the struggle for a better world. Yet we’re painfully aware of the limits of legal action. The law is a product of the socio-economic system we live under. It is set up to reinforce that system. The remedies offered by judges or public inquiries will always be inadequate to addressing systemic harm.

Since our foundation as a law centre we’ve tried to hammer home the wider social and political implications of the cases we take on. We also undertake radical rights education and work to raise awareness of how public law can help communities resist injustice.

In 2020 we launched a blog and began publishing advocacy reports, personal testimonies and policy analysis. We’ve come to see researching and telling compelling stories about how the law operates in our society as a vital complement to our day-to-day litigation and casework.

Our Other Voices series of publications builds on this strand of PILC’s work by making space for voices that tend to be marginalised in mainstream legal, policy and human-rights discourses.

With a focus on PILC’s priority area of racial justice and migrants’ rights, we centre the practices and analysis of frontline workers and activists, as well as people and communities treated by our (legal-political-economic) system as marginal or disposable—who inhabit, as Denise Ferreira Da Silva writes, ‘that place where what should happen to nobody happens every day’.

We don’t see this series as an exercise in ‘inclusion’ or ‘user voice’. Making the tent bigger is pointless if the rules of the game stay the same. We’d like these publications to upset the terms of the ‘policy debate’ around migration and homelessness—its language, its horizons and the power relations expressed through its very silences.

Our contributors—PILC staff, clients and friends—speak & write with eloquence, intellect and deep feeling, challenging received narratives and leaden theories of change. They offer a sobering account of the way things are now.

Through the spirit & energy of resistance they articulate, they also gesture towards a future worth fighting for.

Illustrations by Aurelia Lange.

11Jul 2023

PILC launches A Guide to the Public Order Act 2023

11th July 2023|

The Public Order Act 2023 is a serious infringement upon civil liberties and the democratic right to protest. It suppresses dissent, imposes arbitrary restrictions, and undermines freedom of expression.

The Act provides excessive power to the Government, enabling the suppression of dissenting voices and peaceful protests. The potential for abuse of power by law enforcement agencies is a significant, as the Act may disproportionately target certain groups. Such arbitrary restrictions not only infringe upon freedom of expression but also erode trust in the fairness and impartiality of the legal system.

We have produced a guide which can be found here.

Photo: Midnightblueowl/Wikimedia Commons

10Jul 2023

Spycops Inquiry: Another case referred to the Miscarriage of Justice panel

10th July 2023|

The Undercover Policing Inquiry has recently referred a second set of suspected miscarriages of justice to a dedicated panel established by the Home Office. Its purpose is to review the referred cases and determine if further action is necessary, potentially including referral to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Our client Michael Chant is one of those who has had his case referred.

In this particular referral, the Inquiry examined the actions of an undercover officer known as HN13, or ‘Desmond Barry Loader’ who was a member of the Special Demonstration Squad. This particular Undercover Officer (UCO) had infiltrated the East London branch of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) (CPE-ML) and was involved in two incidents that led to the prosecution of both himself and other CPE-ML members.

The first incident involved an anti-fascist march from Ilford to Barking on September 17, 1977, resulting in a prosecution for insulting behaviour. HN13 and seven others appeared in Barking Magistrates’ Court on September 21, 1977, and were later remanded for trial on January 3, 1978.

The second incident occurred during the Brixton by-election on April 15, 1978, when clashes between the anti-fascist forces and the neo-Nazi National Front right took place. Four members were arrested including our client. Michael Chant was convicted at Brixton Magistrates Court on June 29, 1978, for using “insulting behaviour”.

During these trials, HN13, using his cover name “Barry Loader,” was acquitted on the first occasion but convicted of using threatening behaviour on the second. The Chairman of the Inquiry, based on the evidence provided, has determined that there is a likelihood of deliberate deception of the trial benches in both cases regarding the identity and role of HN13, suggesting a potential miscarriage of justice.

The Inquiry’s findings and related materials can be found in the Tranche 1 Interim Report, specifically in paragraphs 53 and 54 of chapter 5, published on June 29, 2023. The Inquiry is still ongoing, and it is possible that additional suspected miscarriages of justice will be identified as it continues to investigate undercover policing operations chronologically from 1968 to the present.

Michael Chant said: “These incidents show the depths to which the state was involved in trying to subvert and criminalise the progressive movements of the day. Although the Inquiry has held in its interim report that the undercover long-term infiltrations by the SDS were not justified and, if known publicly, ‘would have been brought to a rapid end’, today the use of police powers is more open and exposes the nature of the state. It is just and right that the miscarriages of justice from the time be referred for redress.”

5Jul 2023

We’re moving offices

5th July 2023|

From Monday 31st July 2023, Public Interest Law Centre’s new office will be at:

244-254 Cambridge Heath Road,

London,

E2 9DA

We also have a new main telephone number from the same date: 020 3559 6342

4Jul 2023

Spycops: When the public is the enemy report launch

4th July 2023|

Join Public Interest Law Centre for a free online event on Thursday 20th July as we mark the end of Tranche One of the Undercover Policing Inquiry.

As well as releasing a report collating statements we have made to the Inquiry on behalf of the Tranche One Core Participants, we will be discussing key findings and what’s next in the Inquiry with:

Donna McLean: Author of ‘Small Town Girl’ and Core Participant to the Inquiry

Lindsey German: Stop the War Coalition and Core Participant to the Inquiry

Suresh Grover: The Monitoring Group and Core Participant to the Inquiry

Piers Marquis: Doughty Street Chambers

The meeting will take place online over Zoom on Thursday 20th July from 6:30pm.

A Zoom link will be provided closer to the event date (24 hours before).

All welcome except for undercover cops!

Get free tickets here

Event sponsored by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.

29Jun 2023

Spycops Inquiry – a response to the Interim Report

29th June 2023|

An Interim Report – ‘Undercover Policing Inquiry – Tranche 1 Interim Report’  has been released by the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI). The report covers the period 1968-1982 and investigates the establishment of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and its operations during this period.

On 12th March 2015 the then Home Secretary, Theresa May announced the establishment of a statutory public inquiry to examine undercover policing. Whilst the UCPI potentially can include all undercover policing in England and Wales since 1968, in reality it will concentrate its efforts on the SDS, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and some regional police forces. Unfortunately, and despite efforts by our client Tilly Gifford in bringing Judicial Review proceedings we could not convince the Scottish High Court that the Inquiry should be extended to Scotland.

For a public inquiry to be granted is attributed to the courageous women who were misled into engaging in sexual relationships with undercover officers. Their unwavering dedication to seek justice compelled the Government, to grant a public inquiry. Furthermore, the Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign exerted additional pressure after uncovering that an undercover officer had been deployed to spy on them.

Public Order and Subversion

When defending the operations of this undercover unit two major arguments have been put forward to defend the SDS. First, that the SDS provided detailed and necessary information to prevent public disorder. Second, that the SDS provided necessary and detailed information to prevent ‘subversion’ – that is groups and individuals who the Government claimed wanted to overthrow the state.

This Interim Report rejects both of these arguments.

First, the Interim Report states clearly that the deployments of undercover officer (UCO’s) made little contribution to the policing of public order. Indeed only small minority of the reports (for example, about 8% between 1975 and 1978) dealt with anything that could possibly be said to be public order related. On the occasions that they did relate to public order, the assistance given was minimal (see particularly comments related to the events at Southall but also Lewisham).

The Interim Report also states that if assistance was required it could have been achieved by other means. Ultimately the Interim Report concludes that “…the ends did not justify the means.” (p.96)

Second, the issue of ‘subversion.’ The Interim Report concludes that virtually no groups presented a threat to the safety or well-being of the State (i.e. was subversive). The Chair’s view was that only three of the many hundred of groups that were infiltrated could be said to have met those criteria (Provisional Sinn Fein and two groups that were referred to in closed hearings that have not been publicly named). It follows that NONE of the Non-State, Non-Police Core Participants met the criteria.

‘Political Policing’

In Tranche 1 our clients Richard Chessum and Lindsey German gave live in person evidence to the Inquiry. Both of them were activists and campaigners during the 1970’s. Both were monitored, and had extensive files opened on them. This was not justified. We are concerned that in Richard Chessum’s case this lead to blacklisting.

We argued on behalf of our clients that at the highest levels of the Metropolitan Police (MPS), Home Office, as well as the Security Services, were fully aware of illegal and unethical practices by 1975 at the latest. They knew that public order and subversion justification was tenuous at best.

In respect of the taking of the highest possible positions of responsibility, we note that the Security Services and Senior Metropolitan Police officers were aware that UCO’s (for instance Rick Clark) would engage in activity that would inevitably de-stabilise organisations.

Bearing in mind that state of knowledge, a key question going forward for the UCPI must be: Why did the highest levels of the MPS, Home Office and Security Services not address these issues?

Further, given that the Interim Report accepts that there was, 1) no public order justification and 2) no subversion, then what the Inquiry must answer going forward is – Why did the methods and practices of the SDS continue through this period, and indeed going forward from 1982?

Our clients believe that the only answer is there was a decision at the highest levels that surveillance, monitoring and infiltration by UCO’s of socialists, anti-racists, and social justice campaigners was for political and ideological reasons. We will continue to argue that political policing was the long term strategy of the state for the purposes of blacklisting, and to create a data base of files on individuals and groups. There can be no other reasons!

Conclusion

We welcome some of the conclusions of the Interim Report. We believe that the UCPI is heading in the right direction.

There are of course weaknesses. The Interim Report criticises two UCO’s who engaged in the most dishonest sexual exploitation. However, overall the institutionalised racism, sexism and anti-working class sentiment of the SDS was not criticised, and indeed the SDS managers were praised as they “…performed their duties conscientiously and in the belief that what they were doing was lawful and in the interests of the public. A handful of them undertook tasks which required great skill and courage…” We have to dispute this. The level of surveillance, the amount of personal information contained in reports, the intimate relationships forged by UCO’s and the lives ruined by the impact of vetting and blacklisting does not deserve praise.

The Interim Report  fails to address the issue of the effects of blacklisting. Additionally it fails to comment on the monitoring of trade unionists and trade unions. We hope that in the next part of the Inquiry these issues will be addressed.

As stated above there does need to be an examination of and the reasons for the continuation of the SDS beyond 1982.

We argue, on behalf of our clients that that reason for its continuation for another 30 years was because the SDS acted for the security services, and Government and carried on with a project of ‘political policing.’

As we stated in the conclusion in our last submission to the UCPI, “ In their defence, the British establishment claimed to be defending democracy, but it was not a defence of democracy, it was the undermining of democracy in defence of the establishment”

Whilst the Interim Report is a step in the right direction – the jury is still out. We hope that once further disclosure is examined, and live evidence is given by those affected by undercover policing, the UCPI will draw the conclusion it was political policing for ideological reasons.

Paul Heron our senior solicitor acts for 11 Core Particpants in the UCPI. Counsel instructed are James Scobie KC (Garden Court Chambers) and Piers Marquis (Doughty St. Chambers).

11May 2023

Criminalising Dissent – a bonfire of liberties

11th May 2023|

On Saturday 6th May 2023 we saw for the first time how the police intend to use their new powers to suppress the right to protest. The Public Interest Law Centre are extremely concerned at the arrest of campaigners from the activist group Republic. Their crime? To organise a protest to show their opposition to the Coronation of an unelected head of state. Under the ‘crime’ of potentially causing a ‘public nuisance’ the campaigners had their placards confiscated and they were arrested.

Through a statement issued on the 8th May the Metropolitan Police are now dropping the charges. Nonetheless the threat of arbitrary arrest is now law, and we fear that the new legislation will be used increasingly to criminalise dissent.

A rise in protest.

The recent extension of police powers should concern everyone who cares about the right to protest and the very idea of democracy itself. In our view the reactionary legislative agenda from the Government is a response to the growth in protest in the UK. Increasingly  working class people are opposing cuts in wages, jobs and services. Make no mistake, the powers used against the campaigners from ‘Republic’ today will be used with enthusiasm against trade unionists, socialists, environmentalists, anti-monarchy protesters and Palestine activists tomorrow.

Public Order Act 2023

Using the Coronation as a smokescreen the Public Order Act 2023 was rushed into law on the 2nd May 2023. It is a restrictive piece of legislation. The Act will introduce yet more oppressive powers which will restrict people’s fundamental rights to peaceful protest.

The Public Order Act 2023 will see further restrictions to the right to protest by:

  • Setting a very low threshold to define disruptive protesting
  • Giving police significant new powers to prevent protests occurring outside of major transport networks, oil and gas and energy supplies. This offence will attract a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.
  • Introducing a new offence of obstructing major transport works – this offence will attract a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.
  • Making ‘locking on’ or going equipped to ‘lock-on’ a new criminal offence.
  • Extending the use of stop and search powers  – including suspicion-less stop and search – to protests.
  • Introducing of new protest banning orders – the Serious Disruptive Prevention Order – that would prevent individuals from attending protests at all.
  • Enabling the Secretary of State to bring civil proceedings in relation to protest activity where protest action is causing, or is likely to cause, serious disruption to key national infrastructure or access to essential goods or services in England and Wales.

Moving to an authoritarian state?

The latest set of laws come soon after, and on top of, the protest restrictions outlined in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. This Act granted broad and unclear powers to both law enforcement and the Government, allowing them to suppress protests, even those carried out by a single individual. One crucial and worrying phrase allows the right to arrest anyone who the police believe “Intentionally or recklessly [are] causes a public nuisance.” This phrase is used in both Acts and there is a fear it will be interpreted broadly by the police. Protest is by definition public, and can be a ‘nuisance’ for some –that is the nature of protest. Many organisations – specifically  Netpol have warned of this.

This further extension of police and state powers are deeply authoritarian.

The impact on campaigners and marginalised groups.

It is not possible here to cover the full and expected impact of the Public Order Bill 2023 and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. We at the Public Interest Law Centre are concerned that  the legislation will impact all aspects of protest and campaigning.

For example, the new offence of “interfering with key national infrastructure” will potentially make unlawful the organising of a protest at sites of power, and acting to ‘obstruct’ transport works. It describes unlawful “…any behaviour.” Is this aimed at trade unionists and the right to strike? It cannot be ruled out.

 The Public Order Act contains provisions that will widen the stop and search authority, which will inevitably lead to an increase in racial profiling. Currently, black people are subjected to stop and search tactics at a rate seven times higher than white people.

Conclusion

In the United Kingdom, peaceful protest has been a significant tool for expressing views and driving political and social transformation. The proposed Public Order Act 2023 and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022  target the very essence of protesting by aiming to criminalise individuals who engage in street demonstrations, or pickets and maybe even street stalls to support a cause they believe in. The Public Interest Law Centre is firmly against these severe measures that aim to suppress dissent and will seek to challenge them legally, and support initiatives to build a national campaign against them.

9May 2023

Breaking News: PILC issues High Court claim over Aylesbury Estate redevelopment

9th May 2023|

Public Interest Law Centre has issued a claim in the High Court regarding the controversial Aylesbury Estate redevelopment. We are supporting prominent resident and campaigner to hold Southwark Council and Notting Hill Genesis to account! 

Today, 9 May 2023, PILC has issued a Judicial Review claim in the High Court on behalf of Aysen Dennis, secure council tenant and campaigner who has been fighting against the demolition of the Aylesbury council estate.  The claim is against Southwark Council (defendant) and developer Notting Hill Genesis (interested party). 

Southwark Council resolved to grant planning permission for ‘Phase 2B’ of the redevelopment of the Aylesbury estate on 17 January 2023. This latest phase is one in a long history of redevelopment on the estate and would see the demolition of 5 buildings including Ms Dennis’ home which she recently opened for an anti-gentrification exhibition.  

The legal case concerns an ‘s96A non-material amendment’ to the historic overarching 2015 Outline Planning Permission covering the Aylesbury Estate. This amendment, which adds the word ‘severable’ to the permission, makes it much easier for the developer to “mix and match” new planning permissions across the Estate that differ from the original masterplan.  

This comes after a recent Supreme Court judgment- [Hillside]- which clarified that a planning permission to develop a plot of land is not severable into separate permissions applicable to discrete parts of the wider site, unless the permission clearly says so. This causes problems for developers who have been relying on “drop in” planning permissions to change parts of large development schemes which are inconsistent to what was originally consented. Ms Dennis argues that in accepting this amendment, Southwark Council have subverted this Supreme court ruling and attempted to bypass the full planning process in their attempts to demolish the Aylesbury Estate.  

For residents like Ms Dennis, this renders historic consultation of residents meaningless and gives power to developers to move further away from original plans years into redevelopment – a practice many housing campaigners in London are weary of.  

The Claimant, Ms Dennis, is challenging Southwark Council’s planning authority’s decision to grant Notting Hill Genesis’ s.96A non-material amendment.  

The Claimant argues that:  

1. Southwark Council unreasonably came to the conclusion that adding the word ‘severable’ to a historic planning permission was “non-material”; and  

2. As the historic Outline Planning Permission was not severable, they must apply for an entirely new permission for the entire scheme, suggested by the Supreme Court’s judgment in Hillside Parks Ltd v Snowdonia National Park Authority 2022.  

Resolution to grant permission to Phase 2B was already highly contentious due to the proposed reduction of social-rented homes in favour of shared ownership and at least 50% privatisation. Those decanted from these homes were not consulted with on plans which will see significant carbon emissions released due to mass demolition, which locals say causes inexcusable harm to the planet. By acting to sever Phase 2B from the historic permission, gains by residents – such as restricting the height of buildings to 20 storeys – could be lost with a 25 storey all-private tower the centrepiece of Phase 2B. 

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!”   

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

Alexandra Goldenberg and Saskia O’Hara, who are leading the project say: 

“It is already difficult for communities to play a meaningful role in the planning process, and this is never more true than for a resident of a London estate which has been a target for demolition by councils and private developers over decades. Developers should not be able to sidestep the findings of the Supreme Court in this manner. For the council to permit this is an affront to its public”  

Please keep an eye on the blog for latest developments with this case!  

Ms Dennis’ legal team is:  

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

Alex Shattock of Landmark Chambers. 

Photography: Luisa Le Voguer Couyet

12Apr 2023

Independent Blacklisting Collusion Inquiry Website Launch

12th April 2023|

The Independent Blacklisting Collusion Inquiry (IBCI) was launched last year to investigate allegations of collusion between trade union officials and the construction industry, which led to the blacklisting of workers. The Inquiry is fully independent. The Inquiry is supported by rank and file trade unionists and the Blacklist Support Group, highlighting the widespread concern around this issue.

The newly launched website for the Inquiry can be found here. Workers who have information regarding these allegations can confidentially contact the Inquiry there.

Nick Randall KC of Matrix Chambers and John Carl Townsend of 33 Chancery Lane Chambers have been appointed as investigators for the Inquiry. With their extensive legal expertise, they will lead the investigation into the allegations of collusion, gathering evidence and conducting interviews with relevant parties.

Paul Heron, from the Public Interest Law Centre, has been appointed as the solicitor for the Inquiry. He will be responsible for ensuring that the Inquiry is conducted in a fair and transparent manner.

The Inquiry will play a crucial role in investigating these allegations of blacklisting in the construction industry and addressing the concerns of workers who believe they have been unfairly treated.

Read Unite the Union’s press release here.

5Apr 2023

Help Get #JusticeForLynn

5th April 2023|

Public Interest Law Centre is challenging the discriminatory exclusion of pensioners from accessing Legal Aid on behalf of our client Lynn*, a survivor of sexual abuse.

Background to the case

In 2022, Lynn, aged 68, was the victim of a violent crime. She sought support, but instead of being helped she was sexually assaulted by a man who took advantage of his public position.

Lynn wants justice. Based solely on income from her State Pension and Housing Benefit, Lynn has been found ineligible for legal aid. Rather than giving up, she has decided to challenge the Legal Aid Agency head on and ensure that others in her situation are not excluded from accessing justice.

“All pensioners should be able to access the legal system. That’s why I am bringing this case, for myself but also for all of them.”

What is the issue?

The ‘disposable income threshold’ for legal aid is just £733 per month. It has remained unchanged since 2013. Her State Pension now pushes Lynn £70 over that limit. Millions of pensioners are being prevented from accessing the courts.

Even if Lynn is able to find legal representation, she will still be left liable for her legal costs in the unlikely event she loses in court. Without protection from these costs, she – and others in her position – are simply unable to access justice.

What are we doing about it? 

We have fully exhausted the Legal Aid Agency’s internal appeal system. We have also asked them to exercise discretion in Lynn’s case to no avail. The only avenue remaining to challenge this unfair rule affecting impoverished pensioners is through legal action.

We will issue a claim to judicially review the Legal Aid regulations by 26 April 2023, arguing that the threshold for legal aid is discriminatory against those over the State Pension age.

Why do we need your support?

Lynn’s legal team are working on this challenge on a ‘conditional fee agreement’, meaning that Lynn will not have to pay any of her legal costs. However, we need to raise money to protect Lynn from any adverse legal costs in the event the judicial review is unsuccessful.

We believe the government’s policy is unlawful and that Lynn’s legal challenge has a strong chance of success. However, she simply cannot afford to take this risk.

“I have tried every route available to get justice and at every point I have been blocked. It is as though I have no rights.”

Challenge the Legal Aid Agency’s discrimination against pensioners

We need £7,000 to support Lynn with adverse legal costs and have launched a CrowdJustice fundraiser to ensure we can protect Lynn. Donate now and share her appeal with friends, family and colleagues so that no one is excluded from seeking justice.

Where will my money go? 

All funds raised will go towards protecting Lynn from adverse legal costs in the event that the challenge is unsuccessful. If the challenge is successful, we will ring fence the donations for future legal action.

Can we count on you?

  • Donate to our CrowdJustice fundraiser
  • Share our campaign on social media
  • Let your followers know just how important this challenge is
  • Help get #JusticeForLynn and ensure that pensioners are not unfairly denied Legal Aid

If you’d like further information about the case or have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch at office@pilc.org.uk.

*not her real name

31Mar 2023

Guest Blog: The Fragility of Civil Legal Aid

31st March 2023|

Image: Chris Beckett/Flickr

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), which was passed by the UK Parliament and came into force on 1 April 2013 introduced significant changes to the provision of legal aid in England and Wales.

LASPO limited the types of cases for which legal aid would be available. Under the new rules, legal aid was no longer available for many types of cases, including most private family law cases, immigration cases, and welfare benefit cases. The Act also introduced restrictions on the availability of legal aid for cases involving civil litigation, such as personal injury claims and housing disputes. In addition, the Act introduced changes to the way in which legal aid providers are remunerated, which has led to significant cuts in the fees paid to lawyers for legal aid work.

These changes have had a massive impact on access to justice particularly those on low incomes. Many people are now unable to obtain legal representation for cases that would previously have been covered by legal aid. There are now legal aid deserts where there are no providers as the impact of LASPO has forced legal aid practitioners out of business.

Here guest blogger Matthew Howgate explains the impact of LAPO and legal Aid cuts on the profession.

The Fragility of Civil Legal Aid by Matthew Howgate

“At the heart of any review of the civil legal aid scheme should be the simple principle that legal aid should always pay enough to cover costs and, if possible, allow just a little profit to invest in its future.”

By Matthew Howgate FCMI, Organisation Development Consultant and Head of the LAPG Management & Leadership Hub

We need to be clearer about how much we all subsidise the legal aid scheme and the true cost that that has on people’s lives and livelihoods!

This year marks 15 years since I left the Legal Services Commission and set up my consultancy practice. A few weeks ago I was scrolling through Twitter when I came across some figures, produced by LAPG, which show again the woeful inadequacy of the payment rates for legal aid. It made me reflect on my experiences as a consultant, often engaged by organisations to help them maximise legal aid income (or survive despite that income).

Across those 15 years, I haven’t worked with a single non-profit advice agency (CAB, Law Centre or similar) that hasn’t had to subsidise its legal aid work from other funding. In NfP parlance, legal aid does not offer full costs recovery. Put bluntly, the income received cannot and does not cover the costs of providing he work. In recent years I have typically found that the income from Legal Help covers less than half the cost of actually doing the work.

Come to think of it, across those 15 years I have rarely found any “for profit” (don’t laugh!) law firms that actually get legal aid to fully cover costs (though to be fair some don’t realise because they don’t apply a full costs recovery approach). Where legal aid does cover costs, it is generally because the firm subsidises inadequate legal aid rates with market rate costs recovered from opponents.

Across the last 23 years, both as a consultant and as a senior lawyer at the LSC, I’ve often heard senior legal aid staff and policy makers say that to make legal aid pay you have to have the right balance of Legal Help, Certificated, and Inter Partes costs. God knows I’ve said it enough myself in training and in consultancy reports. That recovery of market rates costs is spoken about as if it’s part of the legal aid scheme – essentially the bit that makes it financially viable…

Let’s think about what we’re saying here. For a non-profit advice charity to do legal aid work it must rely on grant funding or other funding to meet costs associated with delivering that legal aid work. In effect, those charities are having to subsidise the legal aid scheme from monies that would otherwise be spent on helping other people in hardship.

In private practice the reality is that many if not most firms are having to take profit (from “profit costs” recovered inter partes) and use some or all of that money to subsidise the inadequate legal aid rates. Some prop up their legal aid teams with income received through non-legal aid work. This, in short, equates to a tax on legal aid firms for the benefit of providing legal aid.

It’s worse than that though isn’t it…

The legal aid scheme itself is hugely bureaucratic and feels designed by people with little understanding of the chaotic nature of clients’ lives or record-keeping or of the pressures on charities and small businesses. Contractual and regulatory limitations on what can be claimed along with the time it takes dealing with the LAA mean that huge amounts of work associated with running a legal aid contract and providing legally aided work are not remunerated at all. Contract manager visits, reconciliations, file review, audits, self-audits, peer reviews, appeals, dealing with LAA mistakes – all things that legal aid providers have to endure with no remuneration whatsoever. Worse, the LAA often challenge the costs incurred and time taken helping the most vulnerable clients but the costs of appealing their decisions are greater than any benefit that appeal with achieve, so providers just let it slide – again and again.

This year I am working with several charities that are aiming to tender for legal aid contracts for the first time. In order to be awarded a contract they will all have to pay to obtain a relevant quality standard (LEXCEL or the SQM) and may have to ensure that they employ, from the 10th May (nearly 4 months before the contract start date), a full-time member of staff who meets the Supervisor Standards – not that the current IFA is clear on this issue. Some will have to open their offices for longer than they currently do and pay staff to be available on reception. All will have to implement new systems and processes, and most will have to buy full case management systems. All of this costs money which, in my experience, is rarely recoverable during the life of the legal aid contract. Remember, that the supervisor or caseworker’s full-time salary has to be paid regardless of whether they yet have any legal aid cases to work on or whether any legal aid payments have been received.

If they are lucky, they may start seeing some income from legal aid 3-6 months after the contract start date. It goes without saying that that income won’t cover the costs of the work it is supposed to remunerate. It can take up to 2 years before a new legal aid contract starts to see what you might consider “business as usual” reliable monthly income. Until then all of the associated costs will have had to be covered from other sources of income or lending.

Right now, some of my clients are fundraising for seed funding to get their legal aid contracts off the ground. This means that trusts or foundations are being asked to underpin the costs of setting up a legal aid contract which, once set up, will then always have to be subsidised through other funding. In private practice they don’t have access to grant funding, so those seed costs are met by owners investing in their businesses, rarely to see any real financial benefit from doing so.

When I left the LSC back in 2008 my accidental consultancy career began because I was approached by people who thought that my inside knowledge might be useful in helping their firms or organisations maximise legal aid income. For years I delivered training, sure in the conviction that if you do the work right and observe the contract rules you could make legal aid pay. I don’t know when I stopped believing or saying that but for the last several years I’ve been telling clients that legal aid rarely if ever covers costs but is a helpful part of a wider income / funding portfolio, before whittering on about the benefits of costs protection… “Useful as part of a wider funding portfolio”… what utter nonsense is that when referencing the State funding of a critical service.

The civil legal aid scheme is broken. I’m not sure it ever really worked without practitioners being willing to top-up inadequate legal aid rates with inter partes costs and a great deal of unbillable time. It has certainly not worked for non-profit agencies since they were forced onto solicitor contracts in 2007 and the entire scheme only continues to operate because it is propped up by the generosity of legal aid lawyers, law firm owners and the trusts and foundations that support the advice sector.

Don’t even get me started on the inadequacy of fixed fees set in 2006 and then impacted by the 2013 LASPO scope changes. Best I also avoid discussion about how practitioners have to work to a legal aid contract that is built around the kind of practice I started my career in back in 1988 (an office above Argos in the High Street) rather than some of the leaner, agile digital practices I work with today.

I worried about whether to write this blog post because I am conscious that this entire edifice is built on a huge secret that we all keep lest funders stop funding or the LAA start digging. But unless we are all honest about exactly what it costs to subsidise the legal aid scheme, we can’t hope to persuade Governments to fund it properly.

And when I say cost, I don’t just mean in monetary terms. There are human costs too. Charity service users who don’t get help because the funding that might have helped them is instead propping up legal aid. Staff struggling to make ends meet because the money that could have been used to increase their salaries is being used to prop up legal aid. Lawyers close to burn out because they work 50 – 60 hour weeks just to generate enough income to keep their practices going – because they are having to subsidise the costs of doing legal aid work. Practices that can’t grow or invest in technology or change and innovation. People so ground down by the relentlessness of it all that they walk away from careers that they spent years building. Right now, the entire sector is facing a recruitment crisis like none we’ve seen before.

So, let’s start being honest about how much we subsidise the legal aid scheme. Let’s be clear that we are not just making it work but that it is only working because we are subsidising it in one way or another. Without our good-will, the scheme will completely collapse and many of us have very little left to give.

And if the LAA and this Government doesn’t care then let’s at least be honest with ourselves so that we can talk with authority and power to the next Government.

So, what is the point of this little blog post? It’s simple really – at the heart of any review of the civil legal aid scheme should be the simple principle that legal aid should always pay enough to cover costs and, if possible, allow just a little profit to invest in its future.

Matt Howgate FCMI
Head of the LAPG Management & Leadership Hub
Organisation Development Consultant

Originally published by LAPG on 9 March 2023.