Public Interest Law Centre

public law | human rights | legal action

16Mar 2023

Statement from the Public Interest Law Centre

16th March 2023|

On 21 February 2023 the Law Society Gazette reported that immigration minister Robert Jenrick  stated, “We are monitoring the activities […] of a small number of legal practitioners, but it is not appropriate for me to discuss that here.”

This was in response to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael regarding allegations of abuse and exploitation of the law by solicitors, advocates and barristers.

This statement came during a Commons debate further to a protest outside a hostel in Knowsley against asylum seekers being sheltered there. That protest was inevitably triggered by previous comments by the current Home Secretary, Suella Braverman.

The statement from Jenrick raises concerns about the monitoring of legal practitioners, the potential impact on human rights, the democratic state and the ability for lawyers to act in the best interest of their clients. Whilst the current Government appear not to enjoy the idea of a legal process that goes against its legislative agenda, in any democratic society, the rule of law and the independence of the legal profession are critical components. It is designed to ensure not only the protection of individual rights and freedoms, but also to check the excesses of the Executive.

It is important to note that lawyers play a vital role in upholding human rights, ensuring that individuals have access to justice, but we also act in Court to scrutinise the law. Access to justice should be irrespective of class, race, gender, sexuality, age, religion, ability or political opinion. Any attempt by the Government to interfere in the work of lawyers and practitioners, and that seeks to monitor their work or activities is of great concern to us at PILC.

Whilst it is unclear from Jenrick’s statement what particular actions the Government is proposing to monitor or measure – these threats should not be made or tolerated. His statement could trigger further attacks on lawyers. This is not a fallacy. In 2020, a London law firm accused former Home Secretary Priti Patel of inspiring an attack on its staff after she made comments berating “activist lawyers”.

It is important for Governments to respect and protect the rule of law and the rights of all individuals, including lawyers.

1Mar 2023

Press release: Chair refuses to grant funding for Solace Women’s Aid to Participate in Covid-19 Inquiry

1st March 2023|

Both Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and Solace Women’s Aid (SWA) have been granted core participant (CP) status in Module 2 of the Covid-19 Inquiry, following applications made on their behalf by the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC). This module will assess the impact of core decision-making and political governance in response to the pandemic, including the decisions surrounding non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as lockdown and social distancing policies.

SBS and SWA’s contributions will be crucial to scrutinising the impact that the government’s decisions had on at-risk groups and existing inequalities, in particular women and girls facing domestic abuse.

Incidents of domestic violence dramatically increased when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and both SWA and SBS were faced with responding to this crisis to support victim-survivors. As CPs, SWA and SBS will give important evidence on the impact that government decision-making had on survivors of VAWG during this period, and the particular effect on women and girls from Black and ethnic minority communities, migrant women and women with no recourse to public funds.

Despite these vital contributions, public funding has not be granted to SWA to participate in the Inquiry. We have appealed this decision but have been unsuccessful at this stage.

Whilst public bodies and decision-makers, such as the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister, have been granted public funding for their legal representation in the Inquiry, SWA have not. As a result, SWA now face a troubling decision whether to participate effectively in the Inquiry, or to draw resources from their frontline service.

The Inquiry have argued that SWA have sufficient internal funds to cover their legal representation, however SWA’s funding is derived from ringfenced grants and donations which are intended for essential frontline services for survivors, not legal representation. Without public funding, SWA cannot be on equal footing with governmental core-participants and risk having to withdraw from the Inquiry altogether. This is particularly pertinent given the underfunding of domestic abuse services as a result of public spending cuts since 2010.

We are attending the second preliminary hearing today, 1 March 2023, representing SBS and providing legal advice and support to SWA who will be self-represented and speaking personally at the hearing. In our submissions to the Inquiry, we will be making the case that SWA’s contributions are fundamental to the scrutiny of the government’s decision-making in response to the pandemic and requesting that the Inquiry reconsider their decision to deny funding to SWA.

We will provide updates on SWA’s funding situation as they arrive, and further analysis of the Inquiry’s progress as hearings take place.

Rebecca Goshawk, Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs at Solace Women’s Aid, said:

“We are part of the covid-19 inquiry to represent the impact on women and girls, most obviously the increase in domestic abuse as a result of lockdown.”

“The refusal of funding is particularly disappointing given that those whose decisions are being scrutinised by the Inquiry – Government Ministers, public servants – are funded through the public purse to be represented. Without funding, we are being put on an unequal footing when trying to scrutinise those who made the decisions affecting domestic abuse survivors.”

Selma, Executive Director of Southall Black Sisters said:

“The pandemic, and the lockdowns had a disastrous impact on the lives of our service users, 60% of whom have no recourse to public funds. We look forward to shining a light on the impact of government’s pandemic response policies on migrant victim-survivors of domestic abuse through this Inquiry.”

Helen Mowatt, Solicitor at PILC said:

Effective participation by a CP requires both dedicated time and legal expertise. We have set out Solace’s financial position and have stated, unequivocally, that they cannot afford to pay for legal representation in the Inquiry, or undertake that work in-house either.

Paying for legal representation would require Solace to significantly reduce crucial front-line services for domestic abuse survivors. That Boris Johnson and Government ministers have received an award of funding makes this decision all the more unfair.”

Contact – helen.mowatt@pilc.org.uk

28Feb 2023

Public Interest Law Centre Represents the Frontline Migrant Health Workers’ Group in the Covid-19 Inquiry

28th February 2023|

The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), on behalf of the Frontline Migrant Health Workers’ Group (FMHWG), made a renewal application to the Covid-19 Inquiry. On 16February 2023 the Chair of the Inquiry granted FMHWG Core Participant status in Module 3.

Unfortunately we will not be in a position to speak today due to the late notification from the Inquiry that the FMHWG were granted Core Participant status. However, we support the call from the legal representatives of the Trade Union Congress in their submissions for there to be an additional Preliminary Hearing in Autumn. (para. 20)

PILC represents the FMHWG which comprises three organisations, Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, United Voices of the World and Kanlungan, which were on the frontline of the pandemic.

Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB)

The IWGB is a national trade union founded in 2012 by Latin American cleaners organising for better working conditions at the University of London. Their membership has expanded to include cycling instructors, charity workers, yoga teachers, and private hire drivers. The IWGB have members directly employed by the NHS, and also members who are outsourced workers serving the NHS.

Their members are grouped as:

  1. Cleaners: the IWGB represent cleaners throughout various workplaces across London. Including several hospitals.
  1. Couriers: many members were involved in carrying covid tests across London – often with no PPE.
  1. Private Hire Drivers: the IWGB represents private hire drivers. They became an alleged ‘safer’ way to travel during the pandemic as many tried to avoid public modes of transport for fear of virus exposure. This included many hospital workers who largely used Ubers during lockdowns. This followed an offer by Uber to provide free transport to NHS workers.

The IWGB is organised to challenge exploitative practices which deny its members basic worker rights. Campaigns have been run and strike action has been taken to enforce the minimum wage, sick pay, and health and safety protections. Members are overwhelmingly from BAME backgrounds in low-paid and precarious employment – many in the health service. The IWGB is at the forefront of organising workers previously unorganised.

The United Voices of the World (UVW)

The UVW is a national trade union. It organises predominantly low paid, migrant and precariously employed workers who are on short term contracts, or work in the gig economy. UVW is a member-led campaigning trade union and it has been established to organise, support and empower predominantly BAME and migrant workers in the UK.

The UVW brings together workers across several sectors, but the most relevant for Module 3 are those working as cleaners, security guards, caterers and porters in the NHS. Whilst many of the members work in the Health Service, many are in fact employed in outsourced companies that service the NHS. Subsequently their working terms and conditions are worse than those workers from established trade unions directly employed by the NHS itself.

The UVW has run several campaigns to ensure their members, who are or were outsourced, are brought back ‘in-house’ to the main employer – the NHS. This campaigning and industrial action has highlighted that outsourced workers are receiving worse pay, and terms and conditions of employment. During the pandemic, these outsourced workers were often the last to be considered for PPE, proper sick pay, and had problems accessing the furlough scheme.

Kanlungan

Kanlungan is a charity organising and supporting the Filipino and Southeast and East Asian community in the UK. This includes many from these communities engaged in low-paid and precarious employment. Just as with the membership of UVW and IWGB, during the pandemic, these workers were often the last to be considered for PPE, and had issues accessing proper sick pay and the furlough scheme.

As with UVW and IWGB, a significant number of those that Kanlungan are representing in the Inquiry are employed under outsourced contracts, which gives them an entirely distinct viewpoint from those organisations primarily working directly for the NHS or other private operators.

Kanlungan additionally works with undocumented migrants. Kanlungan’s research has shown that undocumented migrants (also often employed through outsourced organisations) were put in particularly precarious and unsafe working conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic as they felt unable to challenge their employer due to fears of being reported to the Home Office.

These issues emerged both within the NHS and the wider healthcare sector, where undocumented cleaners and healthcare workers were placed in dangerous positions not experienced by their more professional colleagues.

Conclusion:

We look forward to representing the FMHWG and putting the voices of the underpaid, outsourced, migrant working class to the Inquiry.

The legal team consists of:

Piers Marquis (Doughty Street Chambers)

Paul Heron – Senior Solicitor (Public Interest law Centre)

Helen Mowatt – Solicitor (Public Interest Law Centre)

Juliet Galea-Glennie – Paralegal (Public Interest Law Centre)

22Feb 2023

UCPI Tranche 1 Closing Statement

22nd February 2023|

On Monday 20th February 2023, the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) began hearing the Tranche 1 closing statements from state and non-state legal teams. Tranche 1 which covers the period 1968 to 1982.

The Public Interest Law Centre is representing a number of Core Participants (CP) in Tranche 1. This includes former members of the Troops Out Movement, the International Marxist Group and former leading members of the Socialist Workers’ Party. We have played an active role throughout the Inquiry.

PILC Legal Team – closing submissions

Today, Wednesday 22nd February 2023 we are publishing our closing submissions to Tranche 1 of the Inquiry. The submissions can be viewed here.

In these closing submissions we argue that :

  1. The deployment of undercover officers into political campaigns and parties was not simply an intelligence gathering exercise. It was designed, with the knowledge and approval of Special Branch managers and MI5, to undermine a democratic organisations. We highlight how this was done to great effect to the Troops Out Movement.
  2. We show how the undermining of the Troops Out Movement, a democratic organisation was one of a range of “counter measures” that were fully endorsed by Government.
  3. We submit that  post 1972, the principle purpose of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was not to assist with maintaining public order. Its task, in conjunction with MI5, was to spy on citizens who were politically active, particularly in the trade union movement.
  4. Government knew and approved, encouraged and enabled the continuation of  the SDS.
  5. From as early as 1975, the SDS management knew of undercover officer sexual relationships with their targets.
  6. The Public were continually deceived as to the function and tasking of Special Branch, and its close work with MI5.

In conclusion we say that 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.

Rule 10 questions and missed opportunities

Alongside these submissions we are today also publishing what are called Rule 10 questions – these are questions that our legal team drafted we for Counsel to the Inquiry (CTI). The Rule 10 questions can be viewed here.

We submitted over seventy pages of questions for CTI to ask Geoffrey Craft a Senior Police Officer in SDS who managed undercover officers – particularly Rick Clark. Each question was supported by referenced documentary evidence, setting a context, foundation and rationale for asking it.

The questions were submitted early to ensure that CTI could understand not only their importance, but also they could be included in CTI’s questions to Craft. Those questions were absolutely crucial to understand the deployment of Rick Clark, as his deployment was so significant to all of the deployments that followed it.

What resulted was very disappointing. There was much handholding of Craft by CTI through his questioning process – barely 5% of our Rule 10 questions were asked. This despite the fact that the deployment of Rick Clark was extremely important and crucial as it has far reaching consequences in respect of how the SDS worked, the tactics used, and how it was tasked by MI5.

We hope that going forward that CTI is more responsive to our Rule 10 questions.

We take this opportunity to thank our legal team comprising James Scobie KC (Garden Court Chambers) and Piers Marquis (Doughty Street Chambers). They were instructed by Paul Heron our senior solicitor.

20Feb 2023

Spycops Inquiry: holding the state to account?

20th February 2023|

On Monday 20th February 2023, the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) began hearing from state and non-state legal teams. The UCPI will sit for three days and will hear closing statements in Tranche 1 which covers the period 1968 to 1982. Each legal team will summarise not only the evidence heard from non-state core-participants – comprising socialists, trade unionists, and social justice activists but also crucially evidence from undercover officers and their commanding officers.

The Public Interest Law Centre is representing a number of Core Participants (CP) in Tranche 1. This included former members of the Troops Out Movement, the International Marxist Group and former leading members of the Socialist Workers’ Party. We have played an active role throughout the Inquiry. We take this opportunity to thank our legal team comprising James Scobie KC (Garden Court Chambers) and Piers Marquis (Doughty Street Chambers), they were instructed by Paul Heron our senior solicitor.

At the start of the Inquiry, and in our opening statement in Tranche 1 Phase 1 we raised a number of crucial issues including how undercover political policing had very little to do with public order or criminality as the Met Police representatives had argued. Indeed as we showed the use of undercover officers was about curtailment of democratic activity, and the targeting was directed at socialist organisations, trade unions and social justice activists. We also raised two other important issues. First, that undercover officers took positions in the organisations they infiltrated, and second they contributed to blacklisting.

In our next opening statement, in Tranche 1 Phase 2, and having seen more disclosure we developed our themes. In addressing the Inquiry we showed that first the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) went far beyond its original remit. That the undercover officer Rick Clark manipulated the democratic processes of the Troops Out Movement to place himself in a high position of responsibility, and from there he was able to de-stabilise and attempt to decapitate the organisation. Secondly, to achieve that Clark used and exploited the trust of law-abiding citizens, including four women victims, of his manipulative sexual relationships. Thirdly, we evidenced that those in positions of power in the Metropolitan Police (MPS) were fully aware of his tactics and this strategy. Fourthly, we argued that his deployment served to direct those undercover officers that followed to take up organisational roles, which then became the norm. Finally, we argued and evidence that ultimately the authority for this strategy came from the highest level of Government. Ineed it was became clear that successive Prime Ministers were aware of the activity and remit of the SDS.

In our opening statement in Tranche 1 Phase 3 we developed the themes above and submitted additionally that, first – at there was no justification for the infiltrations of the Troops Out Movement and the Socialist Workers’ Party, on the grounds of preventing public disorder. Secondly, there was no policing justification at all. The true purpose of these infiltrations was political and economic. Those political and economic reasons were to curtail a wave of industrial action and thus the monitoring and blacklisting of socialists, trade unionists and social justice activists. Thirdly, we submitted that those purposes (as outlined)  were legally justified and that the Government knew that to be the case but carried on regardless. Finally, that the SDS worked hand in hand with the security services (MI5 / MI6) to infiltrate legitimate and lawful political parties, trade unions and social justice organisations – and monitor campaigners, open tens of thousands of secret files, and actively backlisted them.

The Met Police, hand in had with senior police officers, senior civil servants, the security service and the Government spied on trade unionists, socialists, anti-apartheid activities, anti-nuclear campaigners and many more. Not only was it unlawful and undemocratic, it clearly shows that the British state were on the wrong side of history. We hope that the UCPI is up to the task of holding those responsible fully to account.

At 11.10am, Wednesday 22nd February 2023 we will deliver our closing statement to Tranche 1 of the Inquiry.

10Feb 2023

Law Centre awarded yearly grant from Garden Court Chambers

10th February 2023|

Among the legal profession, Garden Court’s Special Fund is unique. As part of Garden Court Chambers’ long-standing progressive ethos, every member of their chambers contributes financially to the fund.

Twenty organizations receive long-term funding. Over the course of four years, beneficiaries will receive £16,000 (£4,000 per year).

Special Fund donations have exceeded £1.5 million in the last 30 years to organisations defending civil liberties, human rights, and social justice.

A big thank you to Chambers for awarding the Public Interest Law Centre long-term funding this year.

8Feb 2023

Keith Coughtrie joins PILC

8th February 2023|

We would like to welcome to the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) – Keith Coughtrie.

We are thrilled to have Keith join PILC as a solicitor specialising in Gypsy and Traveller law. His expertise in this field will be an invaluable asset to the law centre and the communities we serve. At PILC, we are dedicated to providing legal representation and supporting marginalised and disadvantaged groups, and the Gypsy and Traveller community is an important part of this mission.

We believe that everyone deserves equal access to justice and that Keith’s work will help to ensure that this is a reality for our clients. We are excited to see the impact he will make in this role.

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

20Dec 2022

Season’s Greetings

20th December 2022|

The staff and trustees at the Public Interest Law Centre would like to thank all our colleagues, friends, and supporters, wishing you an enjoyable Christmas and all the very best for the New Year.

On Wednesday 21st December 2022 at 4pm we will be closing for the holiday season, and we will re-open on Tuesday 3rd January 2023.

Please note we cannot consider any new enquiries until 9th January 2023.

16Nov 2022

Calling all Paralegals!

16th November 2022|

The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) exists to challenge systemic injustice through legal representation, strategic litigation, research and legal education.

We specialise in public law, actions against public authorities and public inquiries, bringing cases to court for individuals and grassroots groups who have been treated unfairly.

We hold government and public bodies to account, challenging unlawful policies and practices.

We are recruiting for a new para legal. This is an exciting post and an opportunity to work with one of our lawyers as we develop our public law and actions against public authorities casework.

You can view the job advertisement and download the recruitment pack.

Applications should be made using this application form. Applicants may also complete an equality and diversity monitoring form.

The deadline for the application is 9am on Wednesday 7th December 2022.

Please share news of this vacancy far and wide!

3Nov 2022

PILC launches Other Voices series

3rd November 2022|

Cover image from Other Voices 2

We are proud to have published the first two parts of PILC’s new Other Voices series.

The first publication in the series is a memorial by our EEA homeless rights adviser Kasia Makowska to some of the homeless EEA clients we’ve lost over the past few years. This publication is a contribution to the Museum of Homelessness’s Dying Homeless Project. It can be accessed in English here and in Polish here.

The second publication collects interviews with PILC’s friends at Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL), Museum of Homelessness and Streets Kitchen in which they discuss solidarity-based approaches to housing and homelessness. It can be accessed here.

An extremely limited number of printed copies of the two publications are available. Please write to benjamin.morgan@pilc.org.uk to request a copy.

A third publication in the series will be published in early 2023.

About the 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. More recently we’ve undertaken radical rights education and worked 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 new 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 migrant destitution, 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.

14Oct 2022

PILC launches rights guide for migrant rough sleepers

14th October 2022|

Photo: Global Justice Now

PILC has today published a know-your rights guide to deportations, international ‘reconnections’ and voluntary returns for homeless non UK-nationals and those supporting them.

Non-UK nationals are at increased risk of homelessness, including rough sleeping. Some may think they have no option to leave the UK—even if they want to stay. In the past, some councils and charities worked with the Home Office to force or persuade homeless people to leave the UK.

Our new guide is intended to help homeless non-UK nationals assert their right to remain.

The guide is available online, with versions in English, Polish and Romanian. We also have a limited number of printed copies to give away to organisations and groups supporting homeless non-UK nationals. 

Please contact benjamin.morgan@pilc.org.uk for more information or to request hard copies of the guide.