Friday, 24 June 2011

Jingle Bells

And so to Parliament.

Government LA Minister Jonathan "Jingle-Bells" Djanogly came to visit us on Wednesday. His brief- to justify almost complete dismissal of 5,000 responses against his bill.

He is surprisingly young, but then for me the doctors and policemen suffer this also. He told us  one of the priorities of the cuts was to protect fundamental  rights that should be protected by the state.

Then he cut education law unless the child has a disability. I thought education was every child's right.

He tells us that another priority is savings. Thus all employment law will be cut.  He thinks people should rely more on trade unions. A first this, a Tory minister advocating trade union membership.

Fierce John from the Mary Ward Legal Centre (a proud charity dating to Victorian times) asks him  why appeals in Employment cases, which by definition are legally complex should be cut. After all, the employer has a lawyer. Why leave a carpenter or a cleaner unprotected against the might of the state or corporation?

Jingle-Bells tells us that there is no funding for representation in employment hearings anyway. We tell him that's wrong, in the Lower Tribunal that's true, not in the Upper. "But that's a tiny amount" he blurts out.

OK Jingle Bells, if tiny, why cut it? He doesn't seem to know.

Jingles tells us that  another priority is value for money.

A comrade from Shelter points out that its no use defending a possession case where a client isn't getting their housing benefit unless you can do something about this. Jingle- Bells assures us that he is trying to make the benefit system so efficient that there will never be a need for lawyers again.

Pull the other one Jingle Bells.

A very senior legal executive asks why funding is available when children are taken to Europe, but not Wales. The Minister looks more than usually confused., smiles a bit shily. A young civil servant (see above) explains that the reason is the reason.

An Irish lawyer asks about the impact of lack of funding for disabled clients. Jingle Bells assures us that Equalities Protection will be in place. “But disabled people will lose benefits just like other people” he adds magnanimously.

Oh Jingle Bells!

Finally I lose my temper. A straight answer to a straight question if you please. Last month we forced a Council to pay for 18 months of Housing Benefit and preserved the home of a family with a disabled child. Yesterday we stopped an eviction, and prevented a family being flung onto the parish. Tomorrow who'll do our job?

Jingle Bell blushes, and gives a speech about this government's deep commitment to the voluntary sector. I'm not sure he knows what Housing Benefit is for. Or the voluntary sector.

Under the reforms British children or children born in this country will have no funding to apply for leave to remain. Their mothers and carers can't work and can't claim benefits. Family life clearly is no great priority for Jonathan.

Linda Lee from the Law Society is dismayed and disappointed.

Jonathan assures us that 5,000 replies to his consultation were carefully considered. And then discarded.

Oh Jingle Bells!


Sunday, 19 June 2011

Snot true

Snot ran off my client's nose as the Judge labelled her case speculative and made an outright possession order. She will lose her home.,

She has a bold faux-gold stud in her nostril. I feel a huge sympathy because she has been put under the microscope this last six months.

She came to this country aged 9, now she's 24. She has 2 kids of her own. Legally she isn't allowed to work. Social workers smile at her and cook their books.

She owes four thousand pounds to her landlord because the same social worker who took her kids away forgot to pay her rent.

I stand and explain all the information to the Judge and she says my case is speculative.

Judge, clean up your act. They're already taking away Legal Aid, but I won't put up with this .

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Reader Survey

Thank you dear friends.

We in the legal professions have sent 5,000 suggestions to the government in response to their consultation on Legal Aid cuts, which may be ignored- what are the chances? This month the axe almost certainly falls on Legal Aid.

Wild figures are cast about . The figure of 70% funding cut to charities who practice Law (for God's sakes!) are Government projections. Law Centres and charity would face closure across the country.

I would never have gone out on Facebook or Twitter unless I thought this mattered. It matters.

I started this blog specifically because I wanted people to realise what we may lose- and also to share stories about daily experience working in Hackney.

Feedback has been very encouraging. This month Frontline passed the 3,000 visits mark, and people regularly visit from as far afield as Russia and Australia.

What there has been very little of is feedback on the Frontline site. So I am sometimes left wondering whether these numbers are simply artefacts of the internet, rather than real people.

What have you found interesting in Frontline? What would you like to hear more about (and what less?). Please leave some comments on Frontline's page this week, so I can plot another 3,000 visitors.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Terry Pratchett/ Life doesn't get much better.

Went to my job in my No2 Jacket, now moved to No1 (pale grey). Didn't expect Court so I wore black jeans, a little old, Doc Martens , dove grey shirt, tie.

Went to court anyway, did the business, found myself after 7 ½ recorded hours of work and 12 hours at work sitting at a bus stop in Lower Clapton waiting for the 48 bus. My emergency supplies are Camel Lites, any newspaper and an emergency book.

Emergency book is Terry Pratchett's “Moving Pictures”, light and funny, but not one of his best. I'm eyeing the rain when a young man stops.

“What are you reading?” He asks. He must be about 16 to 17. I'm white with my pony tail and balding, he's black with marvellous hair and a love for books.

We talk about Terry's best, which includes “ Reaper Man”, “Wyrd Sisters” and “Guards Guards!”

He shakes me by the hand and goes on his way, and I say to myself, life doesn't get much better than this.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Is Legal Aid falling to pieces allready? Ask Violet

A barrister phones me. Violet is a smart dedicated barrister of impeccable socialist principles in the ways that matter. She knows and cares about the clients. She argues smart law.

She wants to know when we can have a Legal Aid Certificate. Without this none of us is paid.

“Yes” I say, “I think it's just arrived. Sorry about the delays” - at present the LSC are processing correspondence from 20 April (we're talking emergency applications here). Papers get lost. Requests for reviews of batty costs decisions take a year. Emergency legal aid runs out after 28 days and you spend hours trying to secure emergency cover.

Hours of my time are spent listening to Vivaldi's “Four Seasons”.

Meanwhile, if our papers are sent back after 12 days because the client's name isn't spelt out in BLOCK CAPITALS underneath the signature on p12 of one of the forms (I am not joking) they limit your cover to 5 days because you did not submit the forms "properly completed". 
Explanations of "good reason" receive short shrift e.g my 70 year old secretary had to go to bail her schizophrenic alcoholic daughter out of police/hospital? UH UH! Not good enough. 

My partner had a heart attack and my world went to pieces? Still not good enough.

The sad thing is the staff at the LSC hate it too. These are bright friendly people who want to work, often are legally trained, and are located all over Britain.

Meanwhile, soon we won't be able to grant Legal Aid any-more, so when a homeless family come in we'll sign the forms, send them off and tell mum with tots to come back in 11 weeks or so, if they're lucky.
What are we supposed to do? Kick them out onto the streets?

Violet. The Legal Aid system is taking a heck of a hit already. But I recommend to you the Parliamentary inquiry by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, and Young Legal Aid Lawyers which you may find here

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Picketting the Supreme Court

It was stifling hot when we set out to be Legal Aid Super Heroes on June 3rd, Heron and Wendy and I.

Me in my blue jeans, denim jacket 20 years old covered with pagan symbols , Heron the smart scouser carries our banner furled up. Wendy, 30 years in the movement no longer has to use a walking stick for her injury.

Full of good intentions we arrive before the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. Then the crack team of litigators that we are, we realise we need to be in front of the Supreme Court in Parliament Square. Duh!

Hop a Taxi then realise that my Mum who doesn't have a mobile phone and has come up specially from Dorset will also be going to the wrong place.

Parliament square is seething with humanity. Hordes of rubberneckers choke the pavements. We arrive on a small island in front of a Very Important Building.

In a sea of honking traffic we hear a shadow minister, a peer of the realm, the leader of a venerable legal charity. They have bull horns but you can only hear every second word. We set up our 18 foot banner in blue plastic with “I Love Hackney Community Law Centre” and “Save Legal Aid.”

Suddenly everybody starts chanting . “Save, save, save Legal Aid!” We get moved up to the front. An acapella band comes on, four piece with Sound off for Justice tee shirts. They sing I Fought the Law and the Law Won, they sing about human rights. A client's little girl starts to do the Twist, and we are all amazed.

The band leaves, We should leave too. No. We stand our ground. People come up we haven't seen in ages. Photos are taken. We catch up on old news. More and more people come up.

A very tired woman who has been working at Basildon Court turns up. We sing the Internationale very badly indeed. We go home.

Heron lost his wallet then found it again. And incidentally, I found my Mum. In June they will tell us about Legal Aid cuts. At least we've said our piece.