Chair’s Blog

Ian Rathbone has been a member of the Law Centre Management Committee (now Board of Directors) for around 16 years, and in his third year as chair. He has a background in media relations and public affairs work, and in legal and financial advice. He came onto the BoD as a result of Law Centre support for the Sanctuary for the Ogunwobi Family Campaign (a family who took sanctuary in a Hackney church following deportation threats) which he chaired at the time, and has continued to give support for the immigration work of the Centre. He is a local councillor and a former Speaker of Hackney (civic mayor).  This is Ian’s page to write about any issues he believes may be of interest to visitors to the Hackney Community Law Centre’s website….

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Them and Us – October 30 2014

Armando Iannucci is usually quite a witty and funny man. But on this occasion there is nothing to laugh at as he very aptly describes the discrimination which now exists against people who have to use benefits to survive economically.

In an article in the London Evening Standard titled: “Why politicians of all parties are kicking the poor – Demonising genuine welfare claimants as skivers and benefit cheats is simply creating a more divided society” he points to the scapegoating currently going on in our society.

He writes: “In straitened and uncertain times, people look for bogeymen. Eurocrats and immigrant workers are usually the first against the wall but there’s another chunk of society quietly being singled out for a more sinister denunciation. Be careful everybody — in today’s Britain, woe betide you if you’re on welfare.

It’s now a rite of passage for any aspiring political leader to state that he or she is keen to cut the welfare budget; it’s a mantra as regular as putting a penny on tobacco or vowing to protect the NHS.”

And he quite rightly points out: “So, even though benefit fraud itself is dwarfed thirtyfold by annual tax fraud by companies and individuals, headlines express more contempt for the shirker than the City’s creative accountants and financial experts who caused the economic crisis in the first place. There are no poster campaigns asking us to snoop on tax fraudsters; but it’s become a common trope in any portrayal of benefit culture that it’s peopled entirely by women banging out babies to get better housing, and men claiming sickness benefit while out ten-pin bowling”. 

And he underlines something that keeps being forgotten as people are reduced to something less than human by certain sections of the media and of the political spectrum: “This is not some Victorian workhouse scheme for a destitute underclass: this is us, this is people we know, our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours”.

If we start forgetting that we are ‘us,’ and if we stop being ‘us’ together then we are fragmenting and splitting into a ‘nothing-us’. We have seen societies like that before, and the disaster that befalls them.

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One in four children in the UK are now living in poverty – October 30 2014

Isn’t this just such a complete disgrace about the life of children in one of the most developed countries in the world?

On Tuesday UNICEF were reported as saying that more than one in four children in the UK are now living in poverty – and they say it’s rising sharply because of the Government’s harsh austerity measures. UNICEF claimed the Coalition’s performance on child poverty was “disappointing” compared to 18 other wealthy countries that have actually cut down on the issue despite the recession.
Read more HERE.
Then yesterday the Children’s Commission on Poverty has published the results of a major inquiry to expose the true costs of school life – through young eyes. The young commissioners’ report explains what school life is really like for children living in poverty. It sets out the urgent changes that the Commission recommends so that no child is isolated, stigmatised or excluded from opportunities at school.

Read it HERE.
The inquiry heard how poverty can make children feel excluded, stigmatised and bullied because they cannot afford the same things as their peers. It affects whether they are properly fed and clothed and in turn their ability to concentrate and engage in learning. Too many children are missing out on the opportunity to make the very most of their education, because they struggle to afford the costs of school life.

They conclude –
Across the country, millions of families are struggling with the cost of school. Urgent change is needed in schools to make sure that children living in poorer families are not excluded, stigmatised or unable to achieve their potential in education.”

I know that a lot is done in Hackney for children who come from poorer backgrounds and as a school governor for more than 30 years in Hackney I am aware that schools do try and help where they can. But there are wider factors at work here which need to be changed.

And it is good that for once children – who are the customers on this occasion – have the opportunity to say what they think about what’s on offer for them.

 

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They did not find any evidence” – September 30 2014

The headline said it all: “New research suggests that the work-shy scroungers who live off benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’ may not actually exist” and under the main headline – “Iain Duncan Smith and the tall tales of the feckless layabouts” the article by the Guardian’s Hugh Muir highlighted the main findings of a research study ‘Benefits Street and the Myth of Workless Communities‘ by Robert MacDonald, Tracy Shildrick and Andy Furlong (Teesside University; University if Glasgow; University of Leeds) Sociological Research Online, 19 (3), 1 which can be found HERE.

I give you all this detail not only to help you go and check if true but also to show that this is properly and publicly researched evidence in support of what is being said, not just to say it and rely on people’s prejudices and ignorance to fill in the missing gaps.

The authors say: “This paper critically engages with a pervasive myth about welfare in the UK which is commonly spread by politicians, think tanks and the media. This is the myth that there are areas of the country which are so affected by entrenched cultures of ‘welfare dependency’ that the majority of residents are unemployed. In undertaking research that sought to investigate a different idea – that there are families where no-one has worked over several generations – we simultaneously gathered evidence about the likelihood that there are localities where virtually no-one is in employment.”

They add: “The aim of our paper is simple and empirical: is the central idea of ‘Benefits Street’ true? Are there streets and neighbourhoods in the UK where virtually no-one works?”

Guess what they found?! According to the Guardian report: “But they did not find generations where no one had worked. And they did not find any prevailing aversion or reluctance to work.

They found parents who wished much better for their children than a life on benefits and children determined not to fall into that trap. This was just a snapshot.

It is undeniable that many people are not making the contribution to wider society that we would like. But the new research does suggest that the reasons for long-term endemic joblessness are much more complicated than the story crafted by government and eagerly gobbled up by irresponsible programme makers and scrounger-seeking tabloids.”

My case rests, M’lud.

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Law Society President Andrew Caplen makes domestic abuse a priority – September 15 2014

Pleased to hear that the new Law Society President Andrew Caplen plans to make domestic abuse a priority for the Law Society over the next year and, if possible, help to remove some of the obstacles to legal aid.

Last week, the Law Society held an Access to Justice day at which Andrew launched a fresh push to persuade policymakers to revisit the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offender Act 2012 – or Laspo as it is known – and amend what he says are significant restrictions on the legal assistance now available to victims.

The ability to get legal aid for domestic violence is much tougher” in the wake of Laspo, he says. “It’s not that legal aid is not available, but it’s harder to get it.

Mary O’Hara has written an excellent piece in the Guardian on the problems being created in an article entitled ‘Women will die as legal aid becomes more difficult for victims of domestic abuse to get‘, which you can read HERE.

 

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New Law Society President Andrew Caplen fights for Access to Justice – July 22 2014

Pleased to see that Andrew Caplen has become the new President of the Law Society.  He visited us back in March last year when he was Deputy Vice President.

Even more pleased to hear him say – “Ensuring that nobody is alienated from our legal system” which he says is a major theme of the coming year – making access to justice the priority of his presidency.

Here’s part of his speech which can be found at http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/about-us/chief-executive-office-holders/president/

” … A central theme of my presidency will be sparking a serious debate about the levels of legal provision in this country. Do our citizens have adequate access to justice?

Would it surprise you to know that 600,000 people in this country have lost access to civil legal aid over the last twelve months alone?

We rightly value the rule of law in this country. We have done so for almost 800 years. Hence the Magna Carta celebrations next year. But the measure of any legal jurisdiction, including ours, is surely not ‘what rights do we have?’ But ‘what opportunities and what ability do we have to enforce those rights?’

Access to justice is about ensuring that nobody is alienated from our legal system – neither the homeless, the jobless, or the victims of domestic violence.

There can be no access to justice when citizens, especially those who are vulnerable or marginalised, do not understand their rights, do not understand the legal system. Or are financially unable to obtain redress.

Speaking up for the most vulnerable is what enticed many of us to study law. To become lawyers in the first place.

The heart of the Access to Justice debate is not about lawyers’ fees. It is about the basic functioning of our democratic society – ensuring that where people have a right, they also have a route to a remedy.”

See more HERE.

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Discriminatory’ legal aid residence test blocked by the High Court – July 21 2014

You may have seen last week that the ‘discriminatory’ legal aid residence test was blocked by the High Court – but is this now the end of it? The Government have already said they are going to appeal.

Thousands of legal documents and residency forms have been withdrawn at the last minute, after Chris Grayling’s plans to restrict legal aid to long-term British residents were blocked by the high court.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) withdrew training materials, draft casework guidance, contract amendment notices and vendor specifications relating to the residence test.  Forms which featured the residence test have also been re-issued with the references withdrawn.

The Judges also found that the move would effectively end equality under the law and leave some of the most vulnerable people in society without legal representation. Human rights groups warned that trafficked people, domestic abuse survivors and vulnerable children would be affected by the move.  I was interested to read the comment of Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association (CLSA), who said the ruling was equivalent to Brazil’s defeat at the hands of Germany during the World Cup!

With each and every growing controversy, we have seen that the government’s changes to the criminal justice system have been rooted in the panacea of cutting costs, with little regard to preserving the integrity and the fundamental principles of equality before the law and access to justice that sit at the heart of our legal system” he said.

Read more HERE (and elsewhere).

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Sustainable Advice in Hackney Social Housing Community Information Session – July 18 2014

I was pleased to chair the second Sustainable Advice in Hackney Information Session on social housing on 15 July.  More than 70 people from across the housing sector and local community attended.

John Isted, Projects and Legislation Team leader for the London Borough of Hackney spoke on the Lettings Policy which he had helped to write which is obtainable HERE. He emphasised how much has been changed by the Localism Act of 2011, particularly the new residential qualification.  He also reported that more people are getting evicted by private landlords because the landlord can now get more rent than that from a tenant on benefits.  He mentioned that Hackney Council were piloting a social lettings agency.  Please find a copy of John’s presentation to download HERE.

And Asma Bhol, Medical Assessment Team leader at the London Borough of Hackney explained how her team works.  Medical assessments would provide a first reply within ten days.  The greatest task was managing people’s expectations of such assessments.  Please find a copy of Asma’s presentation to download HERE.

Finally Nathaniel Mathews, Senior Housing Solicitor at Hackney Community Law Centre, provided some useful practical exercises on assessing overcrowding for those present to work through. You can download and print the exercises out HERE and HERE.

If you wish to receive more information from this session or go on the list to be notified of the next sessions including training across the advice sector, please email info@hackneyadvice.org.uk.

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The Government continues to slide down the UKIP slope with introduction of residence test – June 19 2014

So the Government continues to slide down the UKIP slope as it introduces a residence test for legal aid – the Legal Aid Handbook team show how it will make it far more difficult to give and receive legal advice.

Applicants will need to provide evidence of both current lawful residence, and of 12 months continuous residence. Those claiming to be in an exempt category will need to provide evidence of that.

There will be limited exceptions where it is impracticable to do so, which seem to be along similar lines to the current ones for evidence of means. Otherwise, proof will be required in all cases.

Practitioners who struggle now to obtain evidence of means will know how much harder it is likely to be to get 12 months bank statements than 3 – and that before a passport or birth certificate is added. Practitioners working with victims of domestic violence will know how few clients return when sent away to get the prescribed evidence, and how long it takes. If experience of domestic violence cases is any guide, obtaining it will be unpaid work – and will be a very effective restriction on access to justice even in the case of those who pass the test.

Read the Legal Handbook article here: http://legalaidhandbook.com/2014/06/17/can-you-prove-it/.

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Join HCLC’s #iamforjustice #magnacarta protest on Monday 16th June! - June 11 2014

Would you like to join myself and the Law Centre team for a few minutes and do a jelfie this next Monday (at 12.15pm outside Hackney Community Law Centre? #iamforjustice #magnacarta

It’s the anniversary of the Magna Carta next week and what better way to remind the government we won’t stop fighting for legal aid than to take to take twitter by storm with jelfies (a picture of yourself holding a sign saying you are for justice). If you’ve already done a jelfie then you’ve had some practice and it’s time to take two for the Magna Carta.

If you can’t make at that time, how about you do this by yourself at your desk or a group photo outside your office with your colleagues?! If you are at court take a picture outside with fellow solicitors and barristers and clients. Then tweet the picture using #iamforjustice or email to milliegw@gmail.com.

More info on the justice alliance website HERE.

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Welcome to the Post Elections World! – May 27 2014

Welcome to the post elections world! Well, it’s now back to the continuing main struggle for access to justice for those who don’t have the economic means to access the system …

The TUC has launched a Speak Up for Justice campaign, together with trades unions with members in the justice sector.  The campaign calls for an integrated, publicly owned, accessible and accountable justice system, with specific asks in regard to probation, prison services, policing, courts and legal aid.

The campaign has been launched alongside a new a report with research undertaken by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) – Justice for Sale. The report explores the growing scale of private sector involvement in the UK’s prisons and probation service, with the overwhelming majority of contracts held by just three companies, and includes a number of recommendations.

Check out more HERE.

* Did you know that HCLC also has a Facebook page where you can keep up with the latest events in the legal aid field and make comments? Take a look HERE!

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Law Centres Network Guide for Young People – May 08 2014

The Law Centres Network have produced an excellent new source of help for homeless young people.

Homeless young people are vulnerable. They need simple and clear advice on their rights and available help.

Check out the new guide which the Law Centres Network have produced just for them HERE!

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In praise of Hackney Winter Night Shelter’s monthly Legal Advice Clinic – April 29 2014

I am pleased that the Hackney Winter Night Shelter (HWNS) has based its all year round legal advice service at the law centre. We hope the service can be well-supported with legal advisors.  Hackney Winter Night Shelter’s monthly Legal Advice Clinic offers free advice to homeless people at Hackney Law Centre, all year round.

Ongoing cuts to legal aid mean the clinic is more important each month. Founder of the service Monicka Sobiecki says their service has been faced with a growing number of clients because of the government’s continued legal aid cutbacks. “We are dealing with the sharp end of legal aid cuts.”  She added: “These people have nowhere to go. There is no support network left. It’s a pity the government doesn’t think it a priority to deal with the most vulnerable.”

Check out the full Hackney Citizen article HERE.

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Tell the council private renting needs to change – April 24 2014

We support Hackney Digs, the information and support group for Hackney renters.  Private rents have rocketed and it’s a problem that has got be tackled.

Join Heather Kennedy and others on Saturday 26 April 2014 at 12pm outside Hackney Town Hall to present the Digs dossier of renter stories to Hackney Council, along with their agreed policy which asks to make life better for Hackney renters.

They will be playing Housing Crisis Bingo and hearing from local renters about what it’s really like to rent in Hackney.

Heather says that as more and more people are being priced out of Hackney or made to live in over-priced, substandard accommodation we need to make sure the Council are doing all they can to support local people.

For more information about Digs visit www.hackneyrenters.org

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Hackney Council guide to private renting – April 01 2014

The London Borough of Hackney has produced a new guide called ‘What you need to know about renting from a private landlord‘.

The guide explains how the Council can help privately-renting tenants, as well as information on the legal rights and also responsibilities of tenants and landlords.

Read and download the guide HERE.

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More encouraging statistics from our award-winning Dalston Pop-Up Clinic – April 01 2014

More encouraging statistics from the work being done by our award-winning Dalston Pop-Up Clinic , compiled by Rebecca Greenhalgh, Pro Bono Manager of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

Well done Rebecca and all those involved.

As well as advising clients on a range of issues, initial interviews have resulted in:

* 9 people with major debt concerns being put in touch with debt advice charities
* 7 people with serious housing problems being put in touch with housing law services
* 8 people with urgent problems being put in touch with services that could give them advice in time
* 3 people with employment queries being put in touch with ELTAL or similar
* 6 people with more complex queries being put in touch with LawWorks individuals, LawWorks Mediation and other services

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Private Renting in Hackney – March 28 2014

Digs, the private renter information, support and campaign group, run by Hackney renters, for Hackney renters, is collecting stories about private renting in Hackney. Let them know about your experiences with rent, repairs and landlords…

Find out more here: http://tellusyourstoryhackney.wordpress.com/tell-us-your-story-here/

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Dalston Pop-Up continues to make a difference – March 24 2014

I am very encouraged by some positive statistics from our award-winning Dalston Pop-Up Clinic, compiled by Rebecca Greenhalgh, Pro Bono Manager of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

The clinic has been able to advise 40 clients on a range of issues, including

* A client who purchased a sofa which broke repeatedly in the first few months but the company refused to replace it. As a result of advice given at the clinic, the client obtained a full refund for the sofa (approx. £1,400 of monthly payments refunded).

* A client who was charged £820 in bailiff fees; clinic advisers were able to determine the maximum fee that the bailiffs were permitted to charge by law was under £200 and provide a letter detailing the breakdown for the client to obtain a refund.

* A vulnerable 18 year old homeless client who was being threatened by bailiffs at the homeless hostel. Our volunteers were able to provide advice on their rights and signpost them to longer term advice on the dispute.

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Church leaders criticise the Government – February 20 2014

Very interesting to see that 27 Church bishops and 16 other church leaders have criticised the Government in a letter to the Daily Mirror published today (Feb 20).

Here is a key part of the Mirror article -

The intervention comes after Britain’s leading Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the Government’s benefit cuts were a “disgrace.”

A rattled Mr Cameron hit back by claiming the reforms were a “moral mission” and gave people “hope“.

But he is now also at war with the Church of England and other faith groups including the Quakers and Methodists.

In their letter the bishops say “Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry.”

It continues: “We must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.”

Signed by 27 of the 59 Church of England bishops, it notes that half a million people have visited foodbanks since last Easter, while 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year.

The church leaders also challenge Mr Cameron’s claim that his reforms are part of a “moral mission.”

We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must ‘heat or eat’ each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30% in just five years.

Yet beyond even this we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions’‘ the letter says.

It concludes by telling the Prime Minister he has an “acute moral imperative to act.
It’s part a national call to action by church leaders through the End Hunger Fast campaign which launches on Ash Wednesday -

http://endhungerfast.co.uk/campaign-press-release-church-leaders-call-national-fast-uks-hungry-end-hunger-fast-campaign-planned-lent/

It will be interesting to see how this develops locally here in Hackney, Haringey and Waltham Forest.

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Refugee Council Chief Executive to address HCLC Annual General Meeting on Monday 24 February - February 20 2014

I am very pleased that Maurice Wren, the chief executive of the Refugee Council will be speaking at the Hackney Community Law Centre AGM next Monday (February 24).

Our legal aid work with refugees and on immigration has been stopped by the vicious and unnecessary cuts to legal aid by the present government, leaving many such people helpless without any recourse to justice for their case.

Typical of this is Syrian refugees which this Government refused to take at first. They are now admitting some but under very restricting rules – and refugees still need a lot of support and help which we can’t provide on legal aid anymore.

Hackney Community Law Centre has always been at the forefront of such issues – we support the Hackney Migrant Centre and provide a legal service for them – and we intend to continue to campaign for justice for refugees who are often the innocent victims of someone else’s war.

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Sign the Justice Alliance Petition! – January 17 2014

The Justice Alliance have sent us a request – which I am passing on – to sign this petition.

As opposition to the legal aid cuts grows from diverse sections of society, now is the time to put down a marker.

We need to send a strong and swift message to the Government, we need to show the widespread support for legal aid and we need to defend access to justice.

Please sign this petition.

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Low Commission on the Future of Advice and Legal Support – January 10 2014 

Lord Low, who we really appreciate as one of our Patrons, has now published his long awaited Commission report. The Law Society Gazette has a brief article on it HERE.

I was interested to see the comment of Amanda Finlay, commission vice chair and former legal services strategy director at the Ministry of Justice …

In these days of austerity, we realise hard decisions have to be made. But just cutting legal aid is not the answer. The problems still remain.

Sums it up. But is the Government listening anymore?

The report calls for:

  •  Urgent reforms to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable people can get the help they need to deal with employment, debt, housing and other social welfare law problems.
  • A £100m fund to ensure a basic level of provision, with half the money coming from central government and half raised by other sources, including the proceeds of interest on lawyer trust accounts scheme and dormant funds held by solicitors, as well as a levy on pay day loan companies.
  •  Urgent reform of the operation of the exceptional funding arrangements intended to act as a ‘safety net’ for those not eligible for legal aid, suggesting the current arrangements are ‘unwieldy and unworkable’.

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Full support for lawyers protesting against the proposed cuts in legal aid for criminal cases – January 06 2014

If you are signed up to our Friends of HCLC Facebook page you will have seen the coverage today (January 6) of the lawyers protests against the proposed cuts in legal aid for criminal cases.

Hackney Community Law Centre has fully supported the campaign against the cuts. We are already seeing the awful damage being caused to Hackney people by the legal aid cuts in housing and welfare law.

You can understand how strong the feeling is in the legal profession that it is actually the first time barristers have withdrawn their labour, according to the Criminal Bar Association, and the first time the two wings of the legal profession have taken co-ordinated, national action.

Thousands of barristers and solicitors working on publicly funded cases refused to enter court for the half-day demonstration aimed at forcing the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, into a last-minute rethink of proposals designed to save £220m a year.

A committee member of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, said: “We are concerned that we are going to create a two-tier justice system – those who can afford to pay will pay, leaving the poor to be represented by increasingly inexperienced and poorly paid lawyers.”

Lawyers and their supporters have argued that many criminal barristers relying on legal aid work already make very low salaries – one recently-qualified barrister outside Westminster magistrates’ court today said his annual earnings, before expenses, were £16,000  - and further cuts will see many quit the sector, leaving defendants lacking experienced legal advice.

However, the Ministry of Justice has defended the proposed cuts , saying the importance of legal aid means “we have to find efficiencies to ensure it remains sustainable and available to those most in need of a lawyer“.

The Guardian reported today:

To highlight the lawyers’ case that this is about justice as much as pay, many of the speakers are those who have benefited, directly or indirectly, from legal aid assistance. They include Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon, the alleged computer hacker whose planned extradition to the US was halted in 2012 after a long legal battle, and Patrick Maguire, among those wrongly convicted for an IRA pub bombing in the 1970s. The Justice Alliance, the umbrella group organising the walkout, has put out quotes from several speakers, including this from Sharp:

‘Without legal aid solicitors keeping my son Gary in this country until his freedom could be won, I have no doubt that Gary would have taken his own life rather than be taken in chains to the US and removed from his home, his family and all he has ever known. Cuts to criminal legal aid would affect generations to come: your children, your grandchildren and their grandchildren, and no-one knows when their family might need it.”

The former director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, now a Liberal Democrat peer, was scathing:

‘I fear that Mr Grayling is in danger of destroying something that he doesn’t fully understand which is a criminal justice system which is as good as any in the world, which is fair and which supports people who don’t have money as well as people who do… These are not left-wing rebels, these are not natural rebels, these are people with families, with mortgages who have never done this before. I think it is a fair assumption they have been driven to it.’

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Hackney Refugee and Migrant Support Group Appeal – November 05 2013

One of HCLC’s partners is Hackney Refugee and Migrant Support Group who do some excellent work on slim resources. They have just made an appeal which I would like people to consider and act accordingly -

AC is from Ethiopia and has been attending the Hackney Migrant Centre. He has been in the country since 2007, originally on a spouse visa, but his application for leave to remain was made difficult by relationship problems.

He has two young British children, who he is now seeing again thanks to a court order, and this should put him in a good position for an application under human rights grounds. A good solicitor has taken the case on, and money has been raised by Hackney Migrant Centre and by the Ethiopian community, but he is still a few hundred pounds short. ”

Any contributions would be helpful – you can give by emailing HMC Co-ordianteor Helen Hibberd on helen@hackneymigrantcentre.org.uk or phoning her on 07504 332 706 to discuss making a donation.

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Appealing a DWP benefits decision – helpful fact sheet from Disability Rights UK – October 31 2013

Disability Rights UK have produced a very helpful factsheet for all benefit claimants as from this week, you can only appeal against a decision on a DWP-administered benefit after you have asked the DWP to ‘reconsider’ their decision. This includes income support, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, attendance allowance, disability living allowance, personal independence payment and universal credit.

As this is a required step on the way to making an appeal it is called ‘mandatory reconsideration’.

If you disagree with the DWP reconsideration (for example, if the DWP simply upholds its first decision) you can appeal and take your case to an independent tribunal, called a First-tier Tribunal, who will look at the decision and replace it if they think it is wrong. The tribunal is part of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

Disability Rights UK have come up with a factsheet for all benefit claimants, which you can download HERE.  And they also have an excellent ‘Disability Rights Handbook’.

The DWP’s version is HERE.

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Dalston Pop-Up phone lines open again! – October 03 2013

I’m glad to see that the phone lines are open again for the new evening ‘Pop-Up’ Debt and Consumer Law advice service to people living and working in Hackney.

This high quality free legal service will provide assistance to people requiring help with consumer and debt problems.

To access the service, people who live or work in Hackney must call 020 7633 4531 and leave their name and contact telephone number.

A law student from BPP Law School will then call back during office hours to gather more detailed information about the problem.

Thanks must go to BPP Law School, Debevoise and Plimpton LLP, Faegre Baker Daniels, LawWorks and LB Hackney Library services for making this happen.

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Who Benefits? – September 24 2013

This is a campaign well worth supporting as it helps to look behind the prejudice, bias and media manipulation concerning benefits, and gives a voice to those who are using the benefits system to survive.

On the campaign website it says -

“‘Who Benefits?’ aims to give a voice to the millions of us who have been supported by benefits at some point in our lives. By sharing our stories we can show the reality of who needs help, why they need it and the difference that it makes.

All too often, people who’ve needed support from benefits get ignored, misrepresented or blamed for their situation. As a broad coalition of charity, community and faith organisations we want to change that and reach out to the huge range of people who have ever needed help from working age benefits.”

Read more here: http://www.whobenefits.org.uk/page/content/the-campaign

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Backbench parliamentary debate on Legal Aid reforms (June 27th) – July 02 2013

Hackney South MP Meg Hillier recently sponsored a debate in backbench time (which means the subject was determined by backbench MPs rather than Government or opposition front benches) on 27 June. Of the 31 MPs who spoke only one was wholly in favour of the changes which would see a reduction in the number of firms providing legal aid funded advice from 1,600 to 400 and anyone under arrest having no choice over which lawyer to use.

She has raised concerns with the national public auditor the National Audit Office which looks at the value for money of Government policy. The NAO looks at projects after implementation but she has particularly asked it to be mindful of system wide costs of the changes.

Without reasonable access to legal aid more people will represent themselves in person, for example, and this can lead to delays, longer court hearings and therefore higher costs.

She says she is particularly concerned that under the changes a solicitor will be paid the same fee whether the defendant pleads guilty or has a trial lasting three days or less.

Labour’s front bench team has promised a debate and vote on the issue.

See her speech here at 3.19pm - 

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130627/debtext/130627-0003.htm#13062761001594.

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Another nightmare mess on the way – July 01 2013

Another nightmare mess on the way. Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, has outlined the support for Universal Credit claimants who will receive direct housing payments, how DWP will work with social landlords to identify tenants who should be exempt and when action will be taken if tenants fall into arrears.

Three levels of protection will exist:

  • Decisions about whether tenants should receive direct payments will be made in collaboration with social landlords
  • If arrears build up to the equivalent of 1 month’s rent the decision to make direct payments will be reviewed
  • If arrears reach the equivalent of 2 months rent, the claimant will have housing payments switched to the landlord, or managed payments

How many extra staff they don’t have will this all take? And the intention is to return the said tenants back to direct payments “with the right support in place”. What ‘support’ and who’s going to pay?

Are budgets going to be magicked out of thin air to pay for all this ‘support’!

No understanding of the real problems on the ground, of how difficult it is for many people to manage their money in the tight situations they are already in, and how much they are prey to legal loan sharks like Wonga.

Freudian analysis of the worst kind.

More here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/direct-payments-system

***

Arise Sir Tony – HCLC Patron Tony Robinson knighted in Queen’s Birthday Honours List – June 25 2013

Congratulations to Tony Robinson, Hackney Community Law Centre Patron, on his elevation to the knighthood.  A short time after he kindly agreed to give us support (amongst other reasons, he was born in Hackney) he made a great speech about the British banking system on BBC Question time – the BBC website reported it as follows:

Actor and broadcaster, Tony Robinson has said that he no longer has any respect for British bankers and the British banking system.

“Speaking after Barclays was fined £290m  for manipulating banking interest rates, Robinson catalogued how the banks had let down the country for their own interests.

Watch more on the Question Time website. ”

Sir Tony is very aware of the devastating effects that legal aid cuts are having on our community and the damage being caused by the cuts more generally – and who is really to blame.

So now our gallant knight rides alongside our other Patrons who include two Lords, three MPs, one MEP, a journalist, and 3 barristers!

Read about them all HERE!

***

Stop-and-search fuelling a sense of frustration and alienation from those on the receiving end – May 08 2013

I have already mentioned the excellent Mind the Justice Gap meeting on April 29 at City Hall which HCLC helped to organise. We now have some photos and a good article on what was said on the HCLC website HERE.

Stop and Search became the topic of the evening with many young people making a contribution about their concerns. The text below, taken from the article, helps to summarise those concerns:

” … Last June, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that the police were 28 times more likely to use stop-and-search powers against black people than white people and earlier this year, Stephen Lawrence’s brother Stuart lodged a racism complaint against the Metropolitan police after being stopped by officers 25 times. The Met responded by insisting that the ‘use of stop-and-search is an important tool to combat crime’, and claiming that the ‘consistent message from our engagement with the public is that the wider community support stop-and-search as long as it is carried out fairly and professionally and that officers are accountable for their actions”.

The experience of the young people in City Hall, drawn from schools and colleges in Hackney, was that stop-and-search wasn’t being used fairly, efficiently or effectively. The Home Office’s own research shows that it has little discernible impact on crime and the disproportionate focus on black people remains stubbornly high. The experience of those in the audience at the Mind the Justice Gap debate suggested that misuse of stop-and-search was fuelling a sense of frustration and alienation from those on the receiving end.”

 ***

Justice Gap meeting at City Hall – April 30 2013

I was thrilled at last night’s Justice Gap meeting at City Hall to hear the testimony of Hughes Cousins-Change about winning his court case against Police treatment of him as a 17 year old inside a police station.

It helped to set the tone in a meeting which had a considerable number of young people telling how distressed they were by continual stop and search – one man said he had been stopped seven times in one day, another had been stopped more than 100 times in a year.

I have long experience going back to the 1980s of this situation and I spoke about the need for people to campaign together – and win as Hughes did.  I remember the old slogan – “The people united will never be defeated“.

Also his uncle spoke encouragingly – as published in the Evening Standard yesterday -

Mr Cousins-Chang’s uncle, Chris Chang, 37, helped to bring the case to court. The criminal defence investigator, from Streatham, said: “This case shows you can change what happens to you, and you don’t have to accept something as being the norm.

You can change what happens to you“.  Absolutely!

See the Evening Standard -

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/hughes-cousinschang-the-teenager-who-changed-how-police-treat-17yearolds-8594540.html

A London teenager who won a landmark case in which the High Court ruled that treating 17-year-olds at the police station in the same way as adults is unlawful said today the result was “beyond his imagination”.

The ruling paves the way for a change in the law after two judges ordered Home Secretary Theresa May to revise it“.

Also The Guardian -

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/apr/25/police-17-custody-children-court

“Police must treat 17-year-olds in custody as children, court rules

Home Office says it will cost £20m to ensure older teenagers get support of parent or ‘appropriate adult”.

And the BBC -

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22294098

And the Daily Mirror -

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22294098

***

Much discrimination against those on Housing Benefits – April 30 2013

The private rented market as we know is a very expensive lottery and there is much discrimination against those on Housing Benefits. This move looks like something that needs to be done more often to help expose the misery in the housing sector caused by private letting agencies -

Community Housing Inspectors expose anti-social practices by Haringey Letting Agents and serve Cease & Desist orders …

The greedy and discriminatory practices of letting agents are a huge problem for Haringey as well as London as a whole. Our inspections showed how local Letting Agents were

* promoting unaffordable rents
* discriminating against benefit claimants and people on low wages
* charging extortionate fees, and
* offering only insecure tenancies

Check out the video of the action HERE.

***

Judicial Reviews – a shocking account of what is really going on – April 25 2013

This is a shocking account of what is really going on – The majority of judicial reviews are in immigration and the Justice Secretary regards most of those as ‘meritless’.   Julian Norman, a lawyer, blogs to explain why JRs are actually crucial in holding UKBA to account.

” … Take a recent example. My client was appealing against removal and had reached the upper tribunal stage. I got an unexpected call from a detention centre. He was being unlawfully removed before his appeal was heard. Telephone calls to UKBA yielded no result, so judicial review was the only answer. Immediately the JR was lodged, he was released with a muttered apology … “.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/23/chris-grayling-judicial-reviews

***

A Guide to Representing Yourself in Court – April 08 2013

The latest “A Guide to Representing Yourself in Court” has been published but as it says in the foreword – .

‘Instead, before you take any action, try to get advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau, law centre or independent advice agency … ‘

It was pointed when LASPO started its way through the system that far from making savings, the legislation now in place would cost more than any money ‘saved’ in increased court time spent with people representing themselves, and in considerable delays to case proceedings, lengthening case queues and in some cases, human misery. But then that was said by a leading Judge, and why should the Government bother listening to them? What would they know about the legal system as against the likes of Kenneth Clark or current Justice minister Chris Grayling who worked as a TV executive!

http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/media/203109/srl_guide_final_for_online_use.pdf

***

A little bit of good news – Ealing Law Centre opens – April 08 2013

A little bit of good news, but it would be better if it was properly funded …

A not-for-profit law centre in London opened last week, the day after wide-ranging civil legal aid cuts came into force. Ealing Law Centre will provide specialist housing and immigration support.

A small group of volunteers (pictured) has built up the centre since October 2011 with support from the London Legal Support Trust, enabling it to gain a legal aid contract and other funding.

http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/ealing-process-begins-after-cuts

 

 

Please encourage MPs to sign EDM 1257 to annul LASPO’s new financial regulations – April 08 2013

Please encourage MPs to sign EDM 1257 to annul LASPO’s new financial regulations (regarding means testing, removing passporting benefits etc).as soon as possible -

http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/1257

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Civil Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) Regulations 2013 (S.I., 2013, No. 480), dated 28 February 2013, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7 March, be annulled.

***

A new generation of radical young lawyers with consciences needed – April 08 2013

Interesting reminder of the roots of the law centre movement and why law centres are needed even more today – article by Oliver Lewis in “The Justice Gap website and previously “The London Advocate“. As Oliver says – “As cuts threaten legal aid and access to legal services they may be needed more than ever. A new generation of radical young lawyers with consciences will be needed too.”

Oliver adds: “Many take the view that LASPO is an assault on the long established idea that publicly funded legal services and the right to representation and equality of access should sit alongside the NHS, education, social security and housing as an important part of a fair society and that the cuts to legal aid are taking us back in time to where we were before Law Centres stepped in.

The government is paying only lip service to the principle of providing the safety nets people need,’ says Michael Mansfield.  ‘Neighbourhood Law Centres provided a place which was welcoming and understanding, tackling issues on behalf of the ordinary person who didn’t have access to resources,’ he says. ‘These legal aid cuts are a disaster. The reality is that Law Centres could become victims of a financial crisis of which they are not the author.’

 ***

Nat Mathews in this week’s ‘Inside Housing’ magazine – March 28 2013

Please to see HCLC’s Nat Matthews is featured in this week’s ‘Inside Housing’ magazine, providing information on how to deal with rogue landlords. Nat’s knowledge is unrivalled on such matters …

Statistics compiled by Shelter show the number of complaints made by tenants to local authorities about private landlords has risen by 27 per cent in the past three years to more than 85,000 in 2011/12. Although it doesn’t have a precise breakdown, many of these involve illegal evictions, where landlords have not followed necessary procedures to force tenants out.

Victims are frequently migrants or vulnerable people with little knowledge of their legal rights, says Nathaniel Mathews, a solicitor at Hackney Community Law Centre in east London. So what is the law and how can council housing departments help stop rogue landlords in their tracks?”

 ***

Don’t give up hope this Easter – March 28 2013

A note from the Law Centres Network …. “Goodbye to civil legal aid as we knew it: today is the last working day before the LASPO cuts take effect. From Tuesday, people in need will no longer be able to get free legal help in vast areas of law, not least on their welfare entitlements. Sad day for access to justice.

But we’re not giving up just yet at Hackney Community Law Centre!  We’ve just launched our form filling service for ESA and DLA applications and we have other things up our sleeves!

And on Tuesday, the Government failed in its attempt to prevent legal action against its controversial Bedroom Tax, after permission was granted for a judicial review (JR) of the regulations to proceed in the High Court.

The JR of the Government’s controversial decision to deny housing benefit to people who have more than one bedroom if they are single or a couple will now be heard in early May.

So, don’t give up hope is the message of Easter for us all and we are not going to!

Have a restful break and get refreshed ready for the struggles of the coming year.

***

New HCLC ESA and DLA form filling service – March 26 2013

I am pleased that we have been able to introduce a vital service for people needing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

With the help of students and tutors from BPP Law School, Hackney Community Law Centre have launched a new service to help people fill out their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) forms.

ESA and DLA application forms can prove very difficult to fill out correctly.  We want to make sure that any resident in Hackney who is entitled to receive ESA or DLA doesn’t miss out by not completing the form properly. If you know of anyone who is in this situation, please encourage them to contact HCLC about it.

More details here …

http://www.hclc.org.uk/2013/03/new-form-filling-service-for-esa-and-dla-applications/

***

‘The myth of the scrounger’ – March 22 2013

Under the headline ‘The myth of the scrounger” , The New Statesman magazine highlights a little noticed piece of DWP research that shows that four out of five claimants spent at least three quarters of the past four years off unemployment benefit.

” … But when four out of five claimants draw benefits for an unemployment spell that is obviously an unfortunate aberration, it’s clear that the excoriating rhetoric isn’t based in reality. If all claimants are to be labelled ‘scroungers’, then today’s striver is tomorrow’s scrounger – and that could be any of us. It’s worth remembering that the next time we hear a welfare squeeze being justified by a pervasive ‘culture of dependency‘. ”

Read the article HERE.

***

Only 1% of Hackney rental properties are available to people on benefits – March 19 2013 

In Hackney only 1% of rental properties are available to people on benefits (according to DIGS).  It isn’t much better across East London. It’s time this changed in an inner city area where people are struggling to find somewhere to live and homelessness is growing.

Please sign this petition to help make more places available for renting for those on housing benefit.

Four out of 10 renters get some housing benefit, yet many banks and building societies prevent their landlords from renting to them.  This means that too many people have severely limited options when they look for a home.

Now Nationwide and Lloyds have announced that they won’t restrict landlord renting. We’re calling on all the other major banks and building societies to follow suit.

***

The Deputy Vice President of the Law Society has ‘not forgotten’ – March 12 2013

Andrew Caplen at HCLCI was very pleased to meet Andrew Caplen, deputy Vice President of the Law Society, last week at HCLC. It was the first time he had visited a Law Centre and he said he had enjoyed the visit and felt the real sense of purpose and hard work of the staff on behalf of poor people.

He admitted coming from a relatively poor background himself and had ‘not forgotten’. He was one of the co-authors of the Law Society’s Access to Justice Review, has written and spoken widely on this subject as well as on legal aid. We look forward to a visit when he is President if he can fit it into what will be a very busy diary. Much thanks to Morag Goldfinch, London Regional Manager of the Law Society, for making it fit into his busy schedule.

Read more about Andrew and Morag’s visit HERE:

***

Lord Bach back writes for Legal Voice – March 12 2013

Lord Willy Bach, a good friend of HCLC, has written this week in the publication ‘Legal Voice’ on further machinations by this government which seems determined to do its utmost to make sure “hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens who will no longer be able to obtain access to justice”. According to Lord Bach -

” … Completely in line with this rotten policy of cuts is a nasty and unfair ruse the Government has come up with. A concession, that would allow legal aid for first tier tribunals in ‘points of law’ appeals, was made to get the LASPO Bill through the Commons. By the time the relevant regulations appeared, it had been watered down. The Lords passed a Fatal Motion, a very rare event, inviting the Government to withdraw the regulation and come up with something a little more generous. HMG’s response was to withdraw even the more minor concession, taking no notice of the Lords’ decision and, even worse, penalising those citizens who would have benefited from the minor concession. Such conduct is not worthy of a mature, sophisticated democracy, where government is supposed to be subject to the will of Parliament.

It is conduct more likely to be seen in some third rate dictatorship. The Government won’t tell you about this scandal; it deserves wider coverage.

It is deeply depressing that in this area the government has behaved so badly. Instead of protecting the poorest and the disabled, at a time of austerity and radical Welfare reform, it has deliberately taken away their only realistic means of obtaining justice by removing the ability to get free legal help. That this can happen in our country is demeaning and is a serious blot on our rightly respected system of justice.”

Read the full article HERE:

***

The Government has spent a lot of money finding the bleeping obvious – March 12 2013 

Richard Dunstan, writing in ‘The Justice Gap’ points out that the government has spent a lot of money finding the bleeping obvious – but too late to do anything about it of course -

http://thejusticegap.com/2013/03/bis-research-moon-not-made-of-cheese/

The 60-page research report, commissioned by BIS from market research firm TNS-BMRB and Kingston University, found that businesses that view employment law as burdensome often do so due to ‘a lack of understanding of the law’.

Furthermore, such business perceptions are at odds with the fact that ‘the UK has one of the most lightly regulated and flexible employment systems in the world.’ … it is of course welcome that BIS ministers commissioned and published this research. It’s just a shame they didn’t do so in 2010, before they embarked on a demolition of the employment tribunal system and the legal protection against unfair dismissal.

***

Five things David Cameron doesn’t want you to know about the Bedroom Tax – March 07 2013

Something sent to me about the bedroom tax which I thought would be helpful for people to know about.

1. Two-thirds  of those who will be hit by the Bedroom Tax are disabled. Down-sizing is often wildly unfeasible for wheelchair users due to the shortage of wheelchair accessible properties. In effect, the Bedroom Tax risks penalising disabled people for being disabled – those who cannot move to a smaller property will be forced to pay more for their housing needs.

2. In many areas of the country there simply aren’t enough smaller houses for people to downsize to (which the Department of Work and Pensions accepts). A DWP assessment estimates that 31% (660,000) of social housing tenants will have their housing benefit cut as a result of the Bedroom Tax. What is likely to happen to those families who lose between £48 and £88 a month from their housing benefit because there aren’t smaller properties for them to move in to? Are they going to be evicted? Are they going to go hungry?

3. It will cause unnecessary misery and suffering. ITV has given real-life examples  of how the Bedroom Tax could hit vulnerable people, such as the couple where the husband had a stroke and can no longer share a bedroom with his wife, or a tenant who uses her second bedroom as a sterile room to receive nutrition from a machine after she had surgery for bowel cancer. Both tenants will have £48 per month taken from their housing benefit from April.

4. The Bedroom Tax could cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds due to the likely increase in homelessness. A typical homelessness case costs £24,000, according to Govan Law Centre. It costs local authorities and housing providers £15,000. Evicting a tenant also costs a social landlord on average £6,000. The shortage of available smaller properties, combined with the inability of some tenants to pay the extra money, will see a spike in homelessness (bad enough in itself), and this will cost lots and lots and lots of money.

5. The new provisions could make overcrowding mandatory. There is no provision in the legislation for houses where the bedroom is only a single room. Children under 10 are expected to share a room as are under 16s if they are of the same sex. The rules do not refer to the size of bedrooms. A bedroom will always count as a bedroom for Housing Benefit no matter how small.

 ***

Legal challenge launched on behalf of disabled and vulnerable children – March 05 2013 

The Guardian carries some interesting news today -

A legal challenge has been launched on behalf of 10 disabled and vulnerable children against the government’s so-called “spare bedroom tax“, which is expected to lead to a reduction in benefits for hundreds of thousands of people  because they have at least one unused room.

Amid concerns that disabled people will be disproportionately affected by the change in benefit rules, a high court judge will on Tuesday rule on an application to have a full judicial review of the policy before it comes into effect on 1 April.”

It adds that under the new rules, housing benefit will only be payable on the basis that children under 16 of the same gender will share a room, and children under 10 will share a room regardless of their gender. All 10 of the children in the claims fall into one of the categories and are expected to share a bedroom with siblings.

However, all of them have also been assessed as needing their own bedrooms – either due to disabilities, because they are at risk of violence from a sibling or because of trauma experienced as a result of abuse and domestic violence.

The challenge to Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions, has been launched by 22 claimants in total – 10 children, seven parents and five other adults – whose cases are supported by charities.

Let’s hope they are successful and this iniquitous tax modified in its impact on the poor and vulnerable.

***

What a miserable world this Government is creating – February 28 2013

Alarming news in the Guardian yesterday. This will leave poor people living in fear of a bailiff (unnecessarily), and local authorities with a funding gap (unless they budget for the shortfall). What a miserable world this Government is creating.

Up to 84% on low incomes will not pay council tax, local authorities believe: Benefit changes mean poor people face average £247-a-year council tax bill from April – but many are not expected to pay.

But because the sums average less than £5 a week, councils are warning that it would “in many cases be uneconomic to recover, with the costs of collection, including legal recovery costs, being higher than the bill”.

Ministers have cut the support for means-tested council tax benefit by £500m, and told local authorities to decide where the axe should fall. The result is that 326 town halls in England have put forward “local” council tax schemes – with residents in neighbouring regions facing wildly different penalties.

Nationally the council tax benefit cuts will mean the poor face an average bill of £247 a year from April, a charge from which they are currently exempt.

Read more HERE.

***

More disturbing news on the post April legal world … – February 28 2013

Devolved powers to grant emergency legal aid for judicial review to be abolished from April, report the Legal Aid Handbook team. Presumably this would hit immigration/asylum cases the hardest?

The LSC have announced that devolved powers to grant emergency legal aid for judicial review cases are to be removed from 1st April (under the new scheme devolved powers will be renamed as delegated functions, but will otherwise operate in the same way). There are limited exceptions mainly for emergency homelessness cases, but otherwise emergency applications will have to be made to the LSC (presumably faxed using APP6) rather than granted under devolved powers. The LSC promise to announce a full procedure shortly.

See more HERE.

***

 

Halsbury2013_CMYK_logo_Finalist

In the Awards again! – February 25 2013

We could be in the awards again, having been shortlisted for a national award for our Dalston Pop-Up Service at CLR James Library on Tuesday evenings- the Halsbury Legal Awards 2013!

http://www.hclc.org.uk/2013/02/dalston-pop-up-shortlisted-for-halsbury-legal-award/

Dalston Pop-Up’s an excellent and fruitful partnership which has seen a huge demand for the service, clearly much needed in Hackney. Those involved have to work hard but I know it is very rewarding.  We are grateful to Debevoise and Plimpton LLP, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP and the students and the BPP law school students and tutors who give their time and invaluable legal experience – for free – to help the people of Hackney gain access to justice.

***

Message to Boris – February 19 2013

Message to Boris from the recent Shelter survey with 4000 people taking part:

* 9 out of 10 say the high cost of renting prevents them from saving up for a home

* 4 out 5 want lettings agents to publicise all their fees upfront

* Two thirds want longer tenancies so they can settle down in their home.

And my five penn’orth – an end to the discrimination against those on benefits wanting to rent.

Are you listening Mr Mop Head?

***

Local authorities are having no choice but to offer rehousing elsewhere – February 14 2013

It is becoming clear that Local Authorities are having no choice but to offer rehousing elsewhere because of the welfare cuts and the spiralling costs of renting in London.

Camden council plans to move 761 poor families from London; Council says welfare cuts force shift of 2,816 adults and children to areas up to 200 miles away with lower housing rents.

One single mother in Camden with four children, all under the age of 10, told the Guardian: “I want to stay where I am for my children’s education. What it seems like is the government just want London for the rich. They want to move people on benefits <http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/benefits> to poor areas.” Her rent is £340 for a two-bedroom flat in Camden. When the cap comes into effect, the government will reduce her housing subsidy to £204. This leaves a shortfall of £136. The council has offered to rehouse her in Liverpool ... ”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/13/london-council-relocation-benefits-cap

***

At what point did Britain decide that legal rights don’t apply to poor people? – February 14 2013

Under the headline – Equality before the law: a principle abandoned by Britain, Citizens Advice Bureau adviser Deborah Padfield has a question: At what point did Britain decide that legal rights don’t apply to poor people?

“There never was a golden age of justice, but the alloy is becoming baser. In April, it will degrade again. I shall then be one of myriad ex-advisers, as legal aid is cut. Save where discrimination is involved, it will end for debt (apart from eviction cases), benefits, employment, education and clinical negligence, amongst other areas. For family, housing and immigration law it will survive only for violent and emergency situations, contentiously defined … Every day, I and colleagues see rights openly flouted, without realistic redress against employers, landlords and public authorities. People are abused because they are poor and poor because they are abused. Rich people grow richer on the back of that abuse. Such a system makes democracy unreal.”

http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/equality-before-the-law-a-principle-abandoned-by-britain

***

A New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions – Monday February 04 2013

A number of people have written to me about this, including Jennette Arnold, GLA Member. Please sign this petition -

We call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions.

Responsible department: Department for Work and Pensions

We call for:

A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service”.

***

Lord Willy Bach still in there fighting for justice – Friday February 01 2013

Lord Willy Bach, the Labour Peer and former shadow justice minister, was asking the legal aid minister why the Legal Services Commission was pulling the plug on vital funding for the Advice Services Alliance, the Law Centre Network and the Royal Courts of Justice’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau worth in total £650,000 per year.

‘It needs to be emphasised right away that all three of these bodies enjoy the highest respect from all who work in our legal system – at whatever level‘ wrote Bach for www.labourlords.org.uk.   ‘It is accepted that the work they have done for many years has been of huge and lasting value to many thousands of citizens faced with legal problems. It is obvious too that they would not have been able to perform in this way if it wasn’t for government funding grants, given without pause over a long period of time – 33 years in the case of the Law Centres Network.
The Labour peer replied that it was ‘rather depressing ‘that ‘three highly respected and proven organisations’ were being put at some risk ‘and all for £650,000 per year?

Is it just coincidence that these changes to legal aid are coming at precisely the same time as radical reform of the welfare system is about to begin or is it… a deliberate government policy to link these two things together so that if mistakes are made as a result of welfare reform-as they will be-there will cease to be any effective legal remedy for many people?’

And others also giving support …

Baroness Butler-Sloss asked ‘whether he was aware or appreciated’ the significance of the RCJ’s CAB?

Having been a judge in that court for many years, I had personal experience of the advantages of the bureau looking after unrepresented families in my court.  Does the Minister realise that taking away the core funding at this moment, when the Government are also taking away legal aid for private family cases, is going to leave the public and the courts in absolute disarray?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham also commented on the likely consequences of introducing a ‘brand new architecture of benefits-universal credit’ to people who will ‘simultaneously be losing large sums of money‘. ‘They are going to need extensive help, support and advice at the very same time as the noble Lord is taking 40% of funding away from CABs across the country’ she said.

Full story HERE.

***

Attack on the Law Centres Network - Tuesday January 29 2013

I have highlighted this cut in funding before. How easy it is to simply say – you don’t physically provide services to frontline clients so we aren’t funding you anymore. But the Law Centre Network (LCN) supports and helps those who do directly deal with clients in a very real way – providing a support network and all that means – and their diminution will mean a reduction in the overall service.  Here at Hackney Community Law Centre we have been very grateful for their support and help.

Funding slashed for legal advice support groups

Government funding has been cut for the Law Centres Network (LCN), Advice Services Alliance (ASA) and the Royal Courts of Justice Citizens Advice Bureau (RCJ CAB).

The Legal Services Commission will withdraw its community legal service (CLS) grants programme from the organisations on 31 March 2013.

A Legal Services Commission spokesperson said: “CLS grants fund projects and activities that do not necessarily provide direct advice to clients eligible for legal aid.

“The legal aid reforms now mean that our focus must be on providing advice to clients who qualify for legal aid, through our contracted advice providers.”

The LCN, formerly known as the Law Centres Federation, supports the national network of law centres and acts as their representative to government, as well as developing special projects of its own, such as a programme to give young people access to legal advice.

The RCJ CAB helps unrepresented litigants in the civil and family courts, as well as advising people on possible miscarriages of justice and providing other general advice.

The ASA provides training and consultancy support on management and technical issues concerning legal aid to the not-for-profit sector.

Steve Hynes, director of the Legal Action Group, says: “This is another illustration of how the Ministry of Justice is trying to wash its hands of access-to-justice policy.

“At a time when everyone is predicting an increase in self-represented litigants, it makes no sense at all to cut back on what the RCJ CAB does.”

LCN director Julie Bishop says: “In 2013 law centres face the biggest challenge since they first opened their doors 40 years ago, as LASPO is implemented.

“This is another attack on the poor and marginalised people we serve, supposedly for reasons of austerity.

 ***

People stealing to eat on the increase – Monday January 28th 2013

People stealing to eat on the increase as austerity bites reports the Guardian.
“The data may still be sketchy and the evidence largely anecdotal, but there are signs that shoplifting food is becoming an austerity-era shoplifting phenomenon: more people stealing to eat because they cannot afford basic groceries.”

Foodbanks (run by volunteers from donations) are also growing around the country, a country supposed to be one of the richest economies in the world, yet in the midst of it poverty grows. Soup kitchen Britain grows …

***

The new ‘spare bedroom tax’ – Monday January 28th 2013

From April the new ‘spare bedroom tax’ comes into force, meaning many low-income families and disabled people will be forced to move or face yet more cuts. Under Occupancy (Bedroom Tax or Social Sector Size Criteria) will introduce rules for working age claimants in the social rented sector – the reduction will be made from the eligible rent figure at the start of the HB calculation reducing HB payable at the rate of 14 per cent for one additional bedroom over size requirement and 25 per cent for two bedrooms or more over size.

John Harris in the Guardian on 25 January gives examples of how people are going to suffer …

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/25/spare-bedroom-tax-contradiction-impossibility?CMP=twt_gu

As a result, hundreds of thousands of people who live on very tight incomes are faced with a choice: either stay in their homes and somehow find the money, or move somewhere else.

More than 4,000 social landlord and Council tenants are affected in Hackney with around 1,000 facing a 25 per cent reduction. The Council is being approached by tenants who want to try and down size but, of course, there’s a shortage of flats available!

And the impact of the Council of the under occupancy change and benefit cap change to Hackney Homes is estimated at around £2m per year.

Once again, the Coalition Government is attacking the poor and defenceless when they are still not taxing the big companies current dodging tax. And they could raise billions from introducing the Robin Hood tax on stock exhange and currency dealings, and stop taking from the poor.

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This assault on judicial review threatens Britons’ access to justice – Wednesday January 23rd 2013

Good article in The Guardian on the further restrictions on Judicial Review.

This assault on judicial review threatens Britons’ access to justice: Judicial reviews have been instrumental in exposing government misdeeds. No wonder ministers are trying to curb its use.

“Ever since it came to power, the coalition government has mounted a sustained onslaught on British citizens’ access to justice. The first assault was legislation that more than halved public funding for legal advice on issues that affect the poorest in society such as debt management and housing.
The second was an attack on employee rights and the introduction of fees for employment tribunals. Now, the government is proposing greatly to restrict your right to apply for judicial review, in other words, to ask a judge to make sure that the decisions of councils, government departments and other public bodies are reasonable, fair and within the law“.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/21/assault-judicial-review-threatens-access-justice

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Mean! Mean! Mean! – Wednesday January 23rd 2013

There’s almost no time to sit down before another cut hits. This time it’s the turn of the Advice Services Alliance, Law Centres Federation (LCF) and the Royal Courts of Justice CAB. All losing their funding and to ‘save’ £655k. Mean! Mean! Mean!

As she says – Chief executive Alison Lamb said the service is trying to secure alternative funding from the Ministry of Justice.

‘It’s ironic that we’re struggling to keep the service going when we know that the number of self-represented litigants will increase dramatically with the legal aid cuts in April,’ she said.

The LCF has been very supportive of Hackney Community Law Centre and helped us a number of times to stay afloat. The full story is reported in the Law Society Gazette HERE.

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Fair and Square: a free school meal for every child in poverty – Tuesday January 22nd 2013

Please sign this petition … Fair and Square: a free school meal for every child in poverty, including those in working families.

For a child living in poverty, a little help can make their world a much better place. The Childrens Society Fair and Square campaign is fighting to make sure all children in poverty have the food they need to flourish.

Free school meals are vital for families in poverty and make sure children from the lowest income households get at least one nutritious meal every day. But currently, around 700,000 children in poverty in England are not entitled to receive free school meals, normally because they’re in low income working families.

The introduction of the new benefit system, Universal Credit, from October 2013, is a watershed moment for free school meals. This is a real opportunity to make a change that’s fair for everyone, and extend free school meals to all families in poverty.

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Haringey Migrant Support Centre Fundraiser – Tuesday 22nd January 2013

Haringey Migrant Support Centre (HMSC) has now been open for almost 4 months, almost entirely reliant on volunteers, pro bono advice and goodwill. They desperately need to raise £5000 to enable them to be able to register as a charity and be able to apply for longer term funding.

The Centre has a fundraising evening on Friday 8th February, 8pm St John Vianney Church Hall, 386 West Green Road, N15 3QL

In April 2013, legal aid for immigration will be severely cut and services such as HMSC will become vital to ensure that migrants are able to access free advice and remain informed about their rights and entitlements. Being able to talk to a specialist adviser about your options and ensuring that people can make informed decisions is so important in a time of increased destiution and vulnerability.

Please come along to the evening, or pledge a donation and please circulate as widely as possible.

Donate HERE:

Hackney Migrant Centre, which Hackney Community Law Centre supports, are seriously struggling to meet demand and HMSC has proven to be vital to those who they cannot see. Please help to support a very much needed service.

 ***

Parliamentary Debate on the Atos Work Capability Assessments – Tuesday 22nd January 2013

If you have time, take a look at this debate on the Atos Work Capability Assessments – a poor turn out of MPs on a Thursday afternoon but at least the issue has got aired. How this ConDem Government are going to live to regret this ghastly carnage of innocent people.

Example after example of human suffering that is unacceptable in a civilised society.” – John McDonnell speaks up for the victims of Atos Healthcare.

Labour’s Kevan Jones went as far as to say the government had “blood on their hands” as a result of the reported suicides of claimants who were found fit to work by Atos.

He said: “There are… a number of well-publicised cases where people have taken their own lives because of this system. It is not too strong to say that this coalition government has blood on their hands for the deaths of those individuals.”
Watch the full 3 hour debate HERE.

Or download it HERE.  The debate took place Jan 17th, 2013.  A report is HERE.

Thousands of sick or disabled people have died after being assessed to find out whether they were fit to work, according to a former Labour minister.

Michael Meacher opened a backbench business debate on the Atos Work Capability Assessments, on 17 January 2013.

Atos is the firm contracted to conduct work capability assessment (WCA) tests for the government.

Mr Meacher accused the firm of “ruthlessly” pressurising the sick and disabled into work.

He said 1,300 people had died after being placed in the “work-related activity group”, for those currently too ill to be in a job but expected to take steps towards an eventual return to employment.

Some 2,200 died before the assessment process was completed and 7,100 died after being placed in the group for those entitled to unconditional support as they are too ill or disabled to work, Mr Meacher told MPs’ ….

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Nat Mathews has written another great blog – Monday January 21st 2013

http://frontlinehackney.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/faith-hope-and-charity.html

Two paragraphs particularly struck me …

British children wake up hungry every day because their mothers gave birth when not married to the British fathers. 95% of immigration cases will lose their Legal Aid funding this April due to Legal Aid cuts. 70% of family law cases will lose Legal Aid funding. Legal Aid for disabled asylum seekers with housing problems is being deleted, and so they have no enforceable rights. The kids plod on, ignored.

The extent of the loss of legal aid is almost too horrifying to contemplate. We will be seeing the damage at the door of the law centre from April 2013. Maybe we should video the response of people and send it to David Cameron. Nat goes on …

It’s easy to feel sad and overwhelmed. Last year during a meeting in Parliament I looked the junior Legal Aid minister Jonathan Djangoli in the eye, and told him that his advice cuts would lead to increased crime and prostitution. He told me that he wanted advice steered away from lawyers and towards charities such as Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux. The penny hadn’t dropped for him that these people are lawyers too.

Being looked in the eye by such an experienced lawyer and truthful person as Nat should instil fear in such politicians. However, Government Ministers who don’t have a clue about the people or the legislation they are supposed to be dealing with are quite common now. Well, it’s either don’t have a clue, or don’t give a damn. Or maybe both.  Just so long as they are in control.

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Law Centres Network  Young People’s Programme – Monday January 21st 2013

Good account by Mandy Wilkins, outgoing Manager of the Law Centres Network (LCN) ‘s Young People’s Programme (YPP), of its excellent work with young people. In an article in ‘Legal Voice’ she mentions our Paul Heron -
“We are honoured to be working with eminent housing lawyer Diane Astin (currently at Scott-Moncrieff) and with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer to analyse Local Authorities’ protocols for referring young people to appropriate services. After an encouraging response from the Local Authorities we will be highlighting examples of good and bad practice later this year.

“Last year some of our work with young people was recognised by the Law Society. Paul Heron from Hackney Community Law Centre came first in the In-house Excellence Awards for his work with street homeless young people. Carolyn Osbourne from Streetwise Law Centre was runner up for her strategic casework which has improved young people’s access to education services.”

See more at: http://legalvoice.org.uk/blog/improving-access-to-justice-for-the-young/

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ATOS often makes the wrong decision and puts unfair pressure on people – January 18 2013

Where are we as a caring society when this is happening? Our work here at the law centre show that ATOS often makes the wrong decision and puts unfair pressure on people – and their appeal against the ATOS decision is often upheld in court.

Here’s two such cases:

* A refugee and torture victim who has been under the psychiatrist for 10 years was given zero points on a work capability assessment. This month the Tribunal awarded her 24 points on her ESA appeal due to her complex psychiatric problems.

* A man who is HIV positive and a haemophiliac and problems with his feet after his ankles were broken in a fall was awarded zero points at the WCA assessment. At the Tribunal hearing on a Saturday the Judge took 2 minutes and awarded 15 points. The Judge apologised to the client.

Never mind the Judge apologising (although that was nice of them) – it’s time this Cabinet of millionaires starts to say sorry for causing such misery to innocent people and reverse this tormenting legislation.

And here’s even more sickness from this heartless government – One of our senior solicitors, Nat Matthews, reminds me that from April 2013 there will be no legal aid any longer to represent any of these people.

The Guardian reports: “The government’s own figures revealed that 1,300 people had died after being told they should start preparing to go back to work, and another 2,200 had died before their assessment was complete, Labour MP Michael Meacher told the House of Commons on Wednesday

The private contractor Atos, which administers the government’s work capability assessments, has come under sustained criticism from MPs as they told stories of constituents who had died shortly after being ruled fit for work by the firm.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/17/atos-attack-emotional-commons-debate

Is death really the only way out? is this really what a British Government thinks is the answer to a financial problem? Isn’t this a national disgrace of stupendous proportions? 1,500 people dead as a result of a Government policy.

***

The grim reality of homelessness amongst young people – January 18 2013

The grim reality of homelessness amongst young people …

Bed, shelter, home, refuge. Why children are taking a bus journey with no destination

For vulnerable youngsters with no homes or parents to turn to, ‘bussing’ has become the preferred option to stay safe at night. Teacher Chloe Combi joined a group travelling across London.

Read more in The Independent HERE.

***

Good reminder of our AGM – January 17 2012

I am pleased to see Paul Heron get a well-deserved mention in the Hackney Gazette for this week -

http://www.hackneygazette.co.uk/news/award_winning_lawyer_who_works_with_the_marginalised_to_speak_at_hackney_law_centre_1_1794741

- good reminder of our AGM coming up on January 28th at 7pm, at The Salvation Army, 122-124 Lower Clapton Road.

***

Please support Birmingham Law Centre – January 14 2013

Please support Birmingham Law Centre. As with every Law Centre, they are having to deal with a massive reduction in income due to the Government’s Legal Aid cuts. However, unlike most Law Centres, they receive no funding from the local authority.

If they close, it will have a devastating effect upon advice services available in the city. The Law Centre is a charity that provides debt, housing, employment, community care and welfare advice to the vulnerable and those most in need. They say they are alarmed that this comes at a time of increasing personal debt and dramatic changes to the benefits system that will see an increase in homelessness, reduction in real terms incomes and a greater reliance on food banks or other charitable support.

That’s why they want Birmingham City Council to support its only Law Centre before it is too late. Please sign their petition HERE.

***

Check out the Law Centres’ Network excellent Facebook page – December 18 2012

The Law Centres Network runs a helpful and informative facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/LawCentres

I recommend you to sign up!

***

When the Sun says it, there must be something seriously wrong … - December 13 2012

“SIX out of ten people on disability benefits will see their payments cut – or axed altogether – under a new crackdown.  Ministers plan to reassess 560,000 people claiming Disability Living Allowance by the autumn of 2015.  They estimate 330,000 of these claimants – or 59 per cent – will end up getting “no reward or a reduced award”.  The remaining 230,000 will carry on getting the same amount of money or see their payments increased.  But, in a concession to disability groups, next year’s first wave of reassessments will only focus on new claimants, those whose claim has come to an end or those who have had a change of circumstances”. Read more HERE.

***

DIGS, the private renters campaign, holding next meeting – December 05 2012

If you are a private renter you may interested in this meeting – DIGS, the private renters campaign, is holding their next open meeting at Cafe Z Bar on Stoke Newington High Street, this Thursday 6th December, 18:30-20:00.

Because this is an open meeting, it will be open to any newcomers with ideas or housing issues you’d like to discuss.

They’ll be providing some support and information on a relevant tenants rights topic.  Right now they’re looking at focusing on REPAIRS but if there is a topic you’d like to suggest, please email hello@hackneyrenters.org

DIGS have come together to campaign for a better deal for people renting locally.  They are a private tenant information and support group, run by Hackney renters, for Hackney renters.

http://hackneyrenters.org/2012/12/04/next-open-meeting-thurs-6th-dec-1830/

 

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Well done Willy! - December 04 2012

Friend of Hackney Community Law Centre, and recent visitor to the centre, Lord Willy Bach has managed to stop legal aid cuts to social welfare appeals by proposing a motion in the House of Lords.

The Law Society Gazette reports: “The government suffered a rare ‘fatal defeat’ in the House of Lords last night on a regulation that would have denied legal help to people appealing welfare benefits on a point of law in first-tier tribunals.

It also agreed to amend a regulation which opponents argued would have restricted the availability of legal aid in public law cases, particularly judicial review. ”

Read more HERE.

***

Our Patron Lord Low chairs an independent commission into the effects of cuts in legal aid – December 04 2012

He is quoted HERE as saying:

A number of advice centres are already closing so the cuts are already taking effect,” Low said.

“We are faced with a perfect storm of reduced provision resulting from the cuts in legal aid and local authority funding and an increase in demand for advice and support resulting from reforms of welfare benefits and other austerity measures. We want to find solutions to the problems. We hope some of this work will find its way into manifestos for the next election.”

Although the Ministry of Justice maintains that £350m of cuts to civil legal aid are not due to come into force until 31 March next year, hard-pressed advice centres are already having to abandon or ration their services before the deadline.

The withdrawal of legal aid is expected to lead to a surge in time-consuming “litigants in person” pursuing claims in the courts unaided by lawyers. Campaigners believe it will also put more pressure on MPs from desperate constituents.

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Homeless people are “sinking in the Localism Act” – November 30 2012

One of our senior solicitors at the Law Centre, Nat Matthews, tells me that the amendments to the Part VII Housing Act 1996 make it possible for a Council to bring any duties towards a homeless person to an end by making one offer of suitable accommodation in the private sector.

Moreover, although the homeless person towards whom a s.193(2) duty is accepted, but when they are forced to accept the offer of private accommodation they would then lose that priority.

He says “This is incredibly depressing. Not only will this bring to an end in most cases the rehousing of homeless people in council stock (assuming the relevant authority decides to go down this road) – it will also make the homelessness s.202 reviews that we do pointless.”  He adds – “Homeless people are sinking in the Localism Act and with Housing Benefit caps, rising rents, poor people are to be cleansed from London“.

My understanding is that Hackney Council are at present committed to discharging their final duty in “any greater London Borough” but not outside London.

***

‘Scrounger’ stigma’ – November 21 2012

This is the disgusting side of this Government. They know nothing about a caring society. This is Toryism at its worst, hitting at the poor and vulnerable because they can’t hit back. This is what the millionaire Prime Minister and 18 other millionaire Cabinet members think of those they should be caring for. We find some our clients have poor self image and feel they are not really worthy of things, and the Government is deliberately seeking to reinforce this.

The Guardian has reported yesterday that -

‘Scrounger’ stigma puts poor people off applying for essential benefits – as many as 1.8 million people. Research shows ‘climate of fear’ whipped up by media stories on benefit fraud delay or stop people in need from getting help.

Hundreds of thousands of poor people say they have been put off applying for or collecting benefits because of the perceived stigma generated by false media depictions of “scroungers” – leading many to forgo essentials such as food and fuel, a new report claims.

Analysis by researchers, led by the University of Kent’s social policy team, said polls and focus groups had revealed a quarter of claimants had “delayed or avoided asking for” vital welfare payments because of “misleading news coverage driven by [government] policy”.

This “climate of fear” means 1.8 million people have potentially been too scared to seek help they are entitled to from the state. Such is the scale of successive governments’ disinformation that the report calls for ministers to abandon briefing journalists ahead of their speeches and asks Whitehall departments to seek corrections “for predictable and repeated media misinterpretations”. ”

Later in the article, it reports:

“Last year ministers appeared to brief that 1,360 people had been off work for a decade with diarrhea , when in fact they had severe bowel diseases and cancer.”

If there was any unnecessary diarrhea, it’s what comes out of the mouth of such Ministers.

More about the report can be found HERE.

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New Board Members for the Legal Aid Agency – November 21 2012

The Legal Aid Agency, which replaced the Legal Services Commission as of next April, yesterday announced three non-executive board members.

They are:

  • Andrew Lockley, previously at the law firm Irwin Mitchell for the last 16 years, where he is a partner and head of public Law. Lockley is also a part-time tribunal judge.
  • John Grosvenor, a chartered accountant and a former senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Grosvenor will join the current audit committee of the LSC in November 2012 as an independent member before becoming chair of the Legal Aid Agency’s audit committee and a member of the Legal Aid Agency Board in April 2013.
  • Eric Gregory, a former IT and HR Director for John Lewis.

This news comes from Legal Voice  which is an online magazine about ‘access to justice’. It is aimed at legal aid law firms, the not-for-profit sector and all organisations providing publicly-funded legal advice in the UK.

It was launched in May 2012 in the midst of the biggest shake-up of legal aid since a system of publicly-funded law was set up as a key part of the welfare state under the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949.

The idea is for an online magazine that:

  • disseminates all the information practitioners need to know about legal aid
  • keeps legal aid professionals abreast of the changes in the sector
  • delivers insightful commentary and expert analysis; and
  • provides a forum for legal aid professional to exchange ideas.

LegalVoice is a not-for-profit venture.  Its start-up costs costs have been met by City law firms and other supporters.

And one of our Patrons Jon Robins is the editor, and another founder is Matt Howgate who is the HCLC Treasurer!

***

Yet another great blog from Nat Mathews – November 21 2012

Yet another great blog from Nat Mathews, this time on the misery and destruction of payday loan sharks. “Our clients at the law centre are being crippled by sharks like Wonga with dodgy payday loans.

Nat tells me -

” …. Standing up in court I tell the District Judge the plain facts. How wages meant for rent and other essentials evaporate the moment they arrive. In every case we get an adjournment so that the tenant can get debt advice.

Yet if I have managed to achieve something today, tomorrow paints a bleaker picture.

Firstly, although Legal Aid presently funds debt advice, from April 2013 this will be so scarce as to be non- existent. For every 100 housing cases funded by Legal Aid, the government is awarding 4 debt cases. We will be hamstrung before we even start.

Secondly, alternative sources of credit for people on benefits or low incomes will become almost non-existent. The Government Social Fund which used to provide cheap loans and grants will soon disappear, and Credit Unions are shutting up shop all over the country.

While the Bank of England’s interest rates are as low as at any time since its foundation, corporate sharks are trawling the economy, and we see no sign that Government is prepared to use any of the levers available to it to stop this from happening“.

As he so rightly concludes -

The truth is that anyone with a moral compass will recognise these greedy pay day loan companies as deeply wrong. Why can’t we do something to stop them“.

Well, one thing people can do is to join the campaign to end legal loan sharking that is headed by Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy. Click here to get a campaign pack and leaflets.

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Councils boycott Cameron’s demand to evict rioters – November 20 2012 

Glad to see that Hackney Council is listed alongside other councils as having not evicted any of its tenants.

At least 250 people involved in the widespread violence in English cities last summer have been identified as council tenants but have been allowed to keep their homes, the Daily Telegraph has established.

Just one person, from Southwark, south London, has been evicted as a direct result of the riots.

The true number of rioters who kept their homes is likely to be far higher as councils in the worst hit areas – including Brixton and Hackney in London – rejected calls to investigate whether their tenants were involved“.

However the ‘poll’ also reported makes more grim reading:

The poll by Kantar “found 49 per cent of the public favour evictions of those convicted of rioting, with 23 per cent against and 27 per cent undecided“.

However – “One in five respondents said parents should be evicted if their children were involved in rioting, with 54 per cent opposed“.

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HCLC reaches out across the world – November 15 2012

One of our former interns Danielle Brown from the University of Richmond School of Law in the USA (pictured left) enjoyed her time recently with us.

On the School’s website, she describes some of her experience:

Brown had the opportunity to work in both areas of law with one of the firm’s senior solicitors. She recalled one occasion when she served as a runner for the duty solicitor, which involved going to court and interviewing clients who were facing eviction but didn’t have legal representation. Brown and the solicitor successfully argued to have the eviction overturned, ensuring the client was able to stay in their home. Brown explained, “once we settled with the housing associations, we got to bring those people back into our office and work with them a little bit more, so that’s how we picked up quite a number of our clients.” She also worked closely with the senior solicitor on several immigration cases‘.

See: http://news.richmond.edu/features/article/-/10961/london-clinical-placement-program.html

I particularly liked – “Brown also enjoyed working with the staff at the Hackney Community Law Center. She added, “Even though they are not really paid a lot, especially being solicitors, they put everything into their jobs”.

 Absolutely!  If you would like to find out more about our volunteers and interns programme click HERE.

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HCLC supporting DIGS – November 14 2012

I met with Heather Kennedy recently who has helped to launch DIGS, a group of Hackney private tenants providing information and support for other renters in Hackney.

They want to take two campaigns forward -

1. Lobby the council to honour their duty to renters by providing the services their obliged to, including advice and tenants/ landlord mediation.

2. Develop a tenants/landlord charter spelling out best practice.

Other actions discussed at the launch meeting on October 25 that Digs will explore are:

* Campaign against extortionate letting agents fees
* Continue research and needs assessment of Hackney renters
* Build membership and consider forming as a Federation of Hackney renters
* Continue creating education resources and rolling out training to private tenants

The Law Centre’s lawyers know all about the problems of the private rented sector in Hackney and HCLC supports this group in their efforts to bring fairness to the sector.

Find out more and join themHERE.

You can also email: hello@hackneyrenters.org for more information or to sign up.

There’s also a Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/digs.hackneyrenters 

*And please read a good article on the DIGS website by Rosie Walker on the Law centre’s recent workshop on evictions HERE.*

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Private residential landlords give a thumbs down to Universal Credit – November 12 2012

Landlords in the private rented sector have roundly rejected the Government’s welfare reform plans for housing benefit, and point to a lack of housing in the sector to cope with the Government’s changes, say the Residential Landlords Association.

Releasing details of a survey of over 1,000 landlords across the UK to coincide with the National Landlord Day conference in Edinburgh today, the Residential Landlords Association and the Scottish Association of Landlords found that 65.2 per cent of respondents do not support the Government’s plans for universal credit.

Asked whether there are sufficient numbers of shared properties in their areas to cope with the extra demand, as a result of a decision earlier this year to increase from 25 to 35 the age at which housing benefit claimants can claim only for a room in a shared property, 54.6 per cent said there was not.

Full survey results are HERE.

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The Hardest Hit – October 23 2012

Photo of the Hardest Hit banner at the front of the March in May 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spot our Patron and good friend Lord Low of Dalston at the forefront of the ‘Hardest Hit demo‘ (see pic above), published in ‘The Tipping Point‘ report published by the ‘Hardest Hit’ coalition which is showing a disturbing pattern around the country.

Published by a coalition of disabled charities and organisations it says that disabled people and their families are on the cusp of sliding into entrenched isolation and poverty because of income reductions and benefit cuts.

It comes just as a survey published today shows that the majority of councils have abandoned support for all but their most severely disabled residents. A series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by The Independent has uncovered that while 14% of responding a authorities currently provide support for disabled individuals deemed to have moderate needs, this figure is set to drop to 11% next year following further cuts to social care budgets.
The Hardest Hit’s report The Tipping Point states that local authorities have removed £2bn from social care budgets despite demand for care services continuing to grow.

Cllr David Rogers, chair of the Local Government Association’s community well being board, said: ‘Local authorities are already facing a £1.89bn reduction in social care budgets and increasing demand from a rapidly ageing population. Unless this growing and immediate funding crisis is addressed things are going to get much worse.

‘All too soon we are going to be faced with a funding crisis that we are no longer going to be able to tackle. The challenge of reforming adult social care is set to fall off a cliff edge and politicians need to act now or risk severely impacting on the services councils can provide for generations to come,’ Cllr Rogers added.

Responding to the publication from The Hardest Hit, chief executive of Mind, Paul Farmer said: ‘This report clearly demonstrates both that the current system is not working fairly and effectively, and that changes that are due to come in soon are likely to make things even worse for disabled people.’

Read The Tipping Point report HERE.

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Poll Tax Mark II – October 23 2012

Looks like a busy week already! Rather worrying to hear Baroness Patricia Hollis arguing that council tax benefit changes “will generate Poll Tax Mark II”. The Local Government Finance Bill is currently going through the House of Lords.

” … Councils will simply not be able to collect small su ms of money at high cost, from two million reluctant people. Treasurers doubt that they can collect 35p in the £. Local authorities, in other words, will have three different schemes in as many years: the existing scheme, the one year transitional grant scheme, and the scheme without grant. Eric Pickles’ Bill is nothing short of a shambles“.

Read more HERE.

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The number of working households forced to rely on housing benefit has doubled since 2008 – October 23 2012

Busy week for reports being published lifting the lid on how our country is suffering from the unnecessary squeeze being put on it the ConDem government … The number of working households forced to rely on housing benefit since the recession began in 2008 has doubled – a trend that will lead to a million earners being dependent on welfare to keep a roof over their heads by the next election, according to The Home Truths study by the National Housing Federation.

10,000 more working people a month are reliant on housing benefit, says report.  National Housing Federation says by next election one million earners will be dependent on welfare to afford rent.
The study found that in May 2012 there were 903,440 working recipients of housing benefits – more than double the figure for November 2008 and a jump that signifies an alarming rise in in-work poverty.

As private rents rise faster than wages, another 10,000 working people a month need housing benefit to afford their rent. By the next election, the study warns, 1.2 million “strivers” will only be able to stay in their homes through welfare payments.

The federation’s analysis is that housing is becoming unaffordable as supply is outpaced by demand. The number of households in Britain is growing three times as fast as the number of homes being built.

In England by 2018 the average weekly rent will be £245, up from today’s £181, a leap of 35%, the study says. The lingering recession means house prices will fall next year but then rise sharply. By 2018 homes in England will cost on average £292,060, almost £60,000 more than today.

Read more HERE.

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Thank you, Ismail – October 22 2012

A good start to the week with a recommendation for HCLC which underlines why we are so important in the lives of people in Hackney.

Ismail Pirbhai from the North London Muslim Community Centre writes:

As the Mental Health and Advocacy Officer at the North London Muslim Community Centre, I can’t stress how vital your services are to my clients. My client’s (particularly those families effected by Mental Health issues) depend on the support and guidance of HCLC to give them a voice during these difficult times of benefits cuts. So keep up the good work.

Thank you Ismail. We are determined to continue to provide our services for the people of Hackney despite the drastic cuts to legal aid by this Government.

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Hackney Community Law Centre Popping Up again! – October 18 2012

I am very pleased we are now running a new evening ‘Pop-Up’ Debt and Consumer Law advice service to people living and working in Hackney.  This adds to our pop up service in Hackney Central library.  This high quality free legal service will provide assistance to people requiring help with consumer and debt problems.  See more HERE.

To access the service, people who live or work in Hackney must call 020 7633 4531 and leave their name and contact telephone number.

I must say a big thanks from the HCLC Board to tutors Jessica Austen, Laura Rowland and Diana Kirsch at BPP Law School;  Rebecca Greenhalgh from Debevoise and Plimpton LLP; Stephen Llewellyn from  Faegre Baker Daniels LLP; Alasdair Stewart from Law Works; and Adrian Morris, Earl Bailey, Anthony Kane and Michelle Gardner from the London Borough of Hackney Libraries Service for all of their efforts in helping to get this much needed new evening service off the ground.

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Child starved to death after benefits delay – October 08 2012

HERE we see the victims of this Government’s madness – the vulnerable and often it’s children and young people – and again the writing on the wall … “further tragedies are increasingly likely as more asylum claims are process while support funding dries up”.

Child starved to death after benefits delay: The government has been warned it must urgently fix flaws in its support system for successful asylum seekers, after a destitute child starved to death in temporary accommodation in Westminster.

Further tragedies are increasingly likely as more asylum claims are processed while support funding dries up, organisations claim.

Details of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of ‘child EG’ and the unrelated death of his mother ‘Mrs G’ surfaced in a serious case review and a letter sent to the government by child safety experts at Westminster Council, a flagship Conservative borough.

The case review found that the family had become dependent on ‘ad hoc’ charitable handouts despite a successful asylum claim because of ‘significant problems’ transferring the family from Home Office to mainstream welfare support services.

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The writing is on the wall – if only this Government looked over the top of its millionaire parapet – October 08 2012

A TUC conference this week has highlighted the weakening of our societal structure, particularly putting children and young people at risk …

The TUC warns that there is a growing crisis in civil society. The ability of voluntary and community organisations to support their local communities is being seriously undermined by funding cuts that are leading to widespread job losses and cuts to services, delegates of a special TUC conference heard.

“At the conference, representatives of charities, voluntary and community organisations, trade unions, faith groups and other civil society organisations are hearing how the voluntary sector is being left unable to meet increasing demands for services as a result of government spending cuts, the continuing economic recession and changes to welfare and legal aid.”

We know all about the latter as the Law centre is finding more and more people coming to the drop in service we run, which means we will have to try and expand our waiting room facilities. .

Also this week, I’ve noted this -

Poll tax bombshell predicted: The Times reports that ministers are warning of a “poll tax bombshell” when new rules due next year will mean that low earners will have to pay council tax for the first time. It says that upheaval in the way council tax is administered is likely to see potentially hefty rises for most households.

The source of the concern is the decision to cut by 10% the £5bn spent on help with council tax bills for 5.9m low income families and, at the same time, to transfer responsibility for the benefit from central government to town halls, asking councils to design their own systems of support for the vulnerable. Councils are obliged to give pensioners the same level of benefits, and are expected to do likewise for people with disabilities.

But people on low incomes who currently receive maximum benefit could have to start paying some council tax, and are expected to see their level of relief sharply withdrawn as soon as they get part-time work.

A report on the subject from the Institute of Fiscal Studies says: “The poll tax experience showed how difficult it can be to collect small amounts of tax from low-income households that are not used to paying it”.

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I suppose it had to come as the Co-op launches its new family law arm – September 25 2012

“On Thursday Co-operative Legal Services launched its new family law arm of its business.  Earlier this year Co-op became the first consumer brand to become an ABS (alternative business structure) and among the first three ABSs regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority”.  This excellent article by Jon Robins, one of our Patrons,  highlights the problem of high street retailers trying to fill the gap left by the legal aid cuts …

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The legacy of Lord Hush Puppy of Much Deception: Failure to cut prison numbers hits spending target plans – September 19 2012

Inability to reduce prison population by 6,000 and close older jails is likely to accelerate Tory privatisation plans.  His pudgy feeble grasp of figures once more revealed – the Minister for Careless & Hurtful Remarks managed to lose £130m plus no reduction in the prison population .

The National Audit Office says that Clarke’s sentencing reform programme, which included sentence discounts of up to 50% for early guilty pleas, was designed to reduce the size of the prison population by 6,000 by 2015.  But Clarke was forced to drop key elements of the package last year after a row over his remarks over the sentencing of rape cases.

The Whitehall spending watchdog says the price of that decision was the loss of £130m of potential savings.

The man in charge of one of the biggest attacks on the poor through the cutting of legal aid sidles away to his jazzy world, leaving another fine mess for his successor.  Unlikely to be prosecuted of course for losing such a huge amount of money for his clients – us!

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This Government’s discriminatory legislation - September 14 2012

Once again, our Nat Matthews has shown just how terrible it will be for those we can help out of their crises at the moment and how we will not be able to help when the 40 per cent cut in legal aid is finally made.

Please read to see how discriminatory this Government is in its legislation …

” …Last week the Legal Services Commission announced 40% cuts in Legal Aid cases they will fund in Hackney from next April. Tomorrow then, a father of two may be sacked, because although he is lawfully present in the UK, Legal Aid is being deliberately cut to the bone, to ensure that it is not possible to find the facts and tell the truth.

A story about a father of British children, playing by the rules for his family, will not be told with the voice of law, because of Legal Aid cuts….

Read the full blog post HERE.

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Violence Against Women and Girls: please support this campaign – September 04 2012

Please support this campaign – around 7,000 women seek asylum in the UK each year. They are seeking protection from persecution, often fleeing violence and abuse. Yet the government’s strategy for helping victims of violence says nearly nothing about them. Women seeking asylum have been missed out.  It’s time to put this right.  The government is reporting on its Violence Against Women and Girls strategy in November.  You can write to your MP and ask them to raise your concerns with the Home Secretary, and insist that asylum-seeking women are treated fairly in the UK and are protected from violence.  They aren’t asking for special treatment, only that women seeking asylum have the same rights as everyone else. You can find a template letter and other details HERE.

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Send the hush puppy kid upstairs – and make it soon! – August 30 2012

I hear that Ken Clarke aka Lord Hush Puppy of MuchDeception, the man who has numbers and nicotine at his fingertips, could indeed soon be hanging around down at the garden of remembrance of crimes past, when David Cameron has a reshuffle in the Autumn. David Cameron must have finally read my memo in February to him -”Send the hush puppy kid upstairs. Make it soon.”

And my prediction may now come true that “Lord Clarke of Hush Puppy (for such will he be) can at last rest in his nook, puffing away on his fag and trying to interest passers-by in old gramophone recordings of ‘I aint gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more’.”

Meanwhile, he’s made another fine mess, Stanley, with his plans for weekend courts “in tatters as lawyers object” acording to The Telegraph in this article.  The Coalition’s plans to speed up the courts system have hit a simple problem: lawyers across the country refuse to sit at weekends. A small matter that they need a social and family life!

But Lord Hush Puppy has displayed his usual sensitivity towards others. For ‘Slush’ as he’s known to his friend, it’s just hard to understand anyone else anyway – unless of course they’re some long dead, or nearly dead, jazz musician.

The Telegraph reports -

The Justice Secretary had ordered officials to try out “flexible” hearings including evening sessions and full trials on Saturdays and Sundays after they were successfully used after the riots.

But while prosecutors have been promised overtime pay and extra time off for changing their working patterns, criminal defence solicitors were told they would not be paid more.

Leading firms say the changes would leave them out of pocket and damage their family lives, and complain the reforms have been forced on them without discussion.

They also say there are not enough cases to make it worthwhile and that the project will end up costing taxpayers more money as police, probation, prison and court staff will all need to be brought in out of normal office hours, as well as victims and witnesses.

Already some pilot schemes have been scrapped following a revolt while others have been scaled back. Elsewhere the Government is pressing on by drafting in lawyers from further afield, which could add to the costs of an exercise that was meant to improve efficiency.”

Back in February I wrote – “Mr Clarke is fond of over stressing words like ‘vast’ as in sums of money spent on legal aid and ‘flood’ of legal claims. Such is his considerable and pudgy grasp of figures.

It looks like once again that pudgy grasp has made another fumbling futile gesture which is going to cost ‘vast’ public money which could be spent in far better ways – like funding the current legal aid system.

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Thank you to our very good friends at Faegre Baker Daniels – August 10 2012

Much thanks must go to our very good friends at Faegre Baker Daniels who contributed a tidy sum to our funds from their efforts in walking round Central London in the London Legal Aid Walk. All in all, with their help and the efforts of the Law Centre staff and Board, we raised just under £4,000 towards keeping the centre going.

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Great news from the London Legal Aid Walk! – August 08 2012

The London Legal Aid Walk has so far raised £527,000! A huge well done and thank you to all 416 teams, particularly Hackney Community Law Centre team who so far have raised £2800, and you can help by donating HERE.

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Please donate whatever you can – August 06 2012

I have been away on hols for awhile. Very encouraged to hear from a resident who has decided to make a regular donation to the centre’s work .

I’m very thankful that a friend of mine with benefits problems found you – an ad in the paper, she said, though I don’t know which one. For quite a while I’ve been doing my best to deal with the onslaught of contradictory and apparently vindictive council paperwork that comes her way, but it gets beyond me at times. And I get angry that the people who most need access to legal help are the ones who are too poor to get it.

If you want to help us continue the work, please donate whatever you can by clicking HERE.

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Sign up for our newsletter! – July 25 2012

If you haven’t seen our newsletter and would like to receive the last two quarterly editions please go to the ‘subscribe to our newsletter‘ section on this website’s front page.  There you can send us your name and email address so we can keep you updated with all the latest HCLC news.  Your support and interest would be much appreciated.

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Heartened! – July 25 2012

I was very heartened to read Jon Robins article in the Guardian last week - “Here’s some legal aid good news. A new law centre has been born – Green shoots are growing in the not for profit legal sector as law centres seek new sources of funding” and to hear that a new law centre is being set up in Ealing. Talk about bucking the trend! Still, that’s what we aim to do here in Hackney as well. Jon also reported on our HoC debate –  “It certainly wasn’t all doom and gloom in the House of Commons, committee room 15 last week where there was a public meeting held by JusticeGap  and Friends of Hackney Community Law Centre.  There was a characteristically powerful dissection of Laspo from Lord Bach, the former justice secretary who led the opposition to the legislation in the Lords (and patron of Coventry Law Centre).  Bach called LASPO a “deliberate attack on social welfare law – the law of everyday life“.

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Go Tony! – July 02 2012

I am so proud and humbled that Tony Robinson has agreed to be our patron when I hear the powerfully forthright and true statement he made on BBC’s Question Time on Thursday about our corrupt and greedy banking system and its banks. Time it was said publicly. Time the Government acted on them. Check it out HERE. Go Tony!!

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The coming changes to the immigration rules – June 28 2012

Some useful information on the coming changes to the immigration rules (thanks to South Manchester Law Centre). I am particularly disappointed to see the disappearance of the 14 year rule (you can apply for indefinite to remain if here continuously for 14 years), kind of substituted by a 20 year old rule. This is indeed a nasty government. No mercy or compassion at all.  More information HERE.

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Challenge to Government’s workfare scheme – June 27 2012

The Government’s workfare scheme is being challenged in the High Court this week. Two cases highlight the way people are made to work for nothing and against their will when they have been carrying out voluntary work.

The claimant who was told he had to work cleaning furniture without pay for 30 hours per week for six months. No detailed information or guidance was provided to him about the scheme itself and he has recently been informed that he is being stripped of his jobseekers’ allowance for six months because he refused to participate in the scheme.

Workfare is in court this week – the High Court in London is hearing a challenge on the legality of the government’s highly contentious workfare schemes.

This is a short information post on the statements that one claimant, Cait Reilly, and her lawyer Tessa Gregory made before they went into court yesterday morning. There is also video and full transcript from their statements below.

Cait Reilly and a claimant who was not named are challenging two of the government’s workfare schemes.

One is the sector-based work academy scheme (Reilly). The second is the community action programme.

Say Public Interest Lawyers (the lawyers representing the two claimants):

“Cait Reilly participated in the “sector-based work academy” scheme against her wishes. She was forced to leave her voluntary work at a local museum to work in Poundland stacking shelves for two weeks.”

“The second claimant refused to participate in a scheme known as the “Community Action Programme” when he was told that he had to work cleaning furniture without pay for 30 hours per week for six months. No detailed information or guidance was provided to him about the scheme itself and he has recently been informed that he is being stripped of his jobseekers’ allowance for six months because he refused to participate in the scheme.”

The outcome of the hearings could have major implications for the government’s controversial “back-to-work” schemes.

More info HERE.

 

Good things come in 3s! – June 22 2012

Lots of things going for the Law centre at the moment – we have had some great coverage in this week’s Hackney Gazette and I extend a very warm welcome to our newest Patron – human being extraordinaire Tony Robinson – who is the subject of a big feature in the Gazette this week HERE and HERE.  We are so pleased that he has joined us and has stated that “HCLC provides an indispensable legal lifeline for people losing their jobs, under threat of eviction, or living below the breadline“.  The team are grateful for this recognition of our work.

Then we also have our exciting new project Mind the Justice Gap: a joint Public Legal Education project happening – see more HERE. I am very pleased that we are going to be reaching young people and helping them to reach their full potential.

AND we had volunteers for Turner Broadcasting in last week to help brighten up the Centre with a coat of paint. They were wonderful and we managed to get a large amount of the walls covered, including really cheering up the reception area.  Thank you to the willing Turner volunteers and well done to our legal team who showed they know a thing or two about decorating as well as the Law!  See more HERE.

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“I’m so glad you’re here” – June 13 2012

I found myself as ‘guest’ receptionist and greeter at our first ‘drop in’ law centre at Hackney Central library on Monday.

As soon as we opened at 2pm there were people waiting – some had just happened by but had something that they needed to sort out legally.

I have just been looking up and down Mare Street for a suitable lawyer but not sure which one to go to”, said one person.

I am so glad you’re here” said a man who had been worrying about the expense of seeing a lawyer and putting off his problem as a result.

 

“Can I really be seen now?” asked someone else incredulously.

So … if you need legal help, drop by at Hackney Central Library any Monday between 2pm and 5pm.

Sorry, you won’t see me there necessarily but you will be able to see a lawyer.  Now.

 

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Get this money back off the fat cat bankers and it will go some way to helping law centres – June 08 2012

Here’s a court case, which took place on June 13 2012 at the Royal Courts of Justice, which is of great interest – get this money back off the fat cat bankers and it will go some way to helping law centres …

The Government doesn’t want to pay cleaners or childminders a living wage but can afford to hand out £10m to fat cat bankers. Just a handshake and the deal’s done! On behalf of UK Uncut Legal Action, Leigh Day & Co- a London based law firm- have threatened a legal challenge against Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs in relation to HMRC allegedly letting investment bank Goldman Sachs off £10m in interest on a tax dispute‘.

Read more HERE.

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Is this a good idea? – June 08 2012

From the Law Society Gazette:

A £25 levy on each solicitor in private practice could pay for every Law Centre in Britain to retain an experienced practitioner, the Law Centres Federation chief has suggested.

The levy on practising certificates was one idea mooted at the LCF’s general meeting last week, at which delegates from centres across the country reaffirmed their commitment to fight for survival, despite the impending legal aid cuts.

LCF co-chair Paul im Thurn said the cuts, which will be implemented next April by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, will cut 60% of his centre’s income ‘at a stroke’.

But he stressed that the need for legal advice in areas such as debt, housing, social welfare, employment and family law will not go away, and law centres need to find new ways of providing advice to clients.

He told delegates: ‘We have to explore every way of doing this, from setting up charging arms, attracting more charitable funding – even a levy on solicitors in private practice.

‘If every solicitor contributed £25 on their practising certificate, it would fund an experienced solicitor in every Law Centre in Britain,’ he said.

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Mike Mansfield QC on why barristers will be striking – May 24 2012

Mike Mansfield QC on why barristers will be striking (an amazing thing in itself!):  Just imagine the home secretary had stood up in front of the Police Federation last week  and announced not just 20% in budget cuts but 40%.  That’s the scale of cuts being wrought on legal aid  . Never mind no standing ovation, you’d expect she would not have been left standing at all.  It’s hardly surprising, then, that parts of the legal profession are contemplating industrial action . The mood across the bar is palpable anger at real injustice, and there is a desire to take action before there is nothing left to defend. The intention is to ensure all barristers are consulted as soon as possible about the nature and timing of any strike.  The form it takes is important, because a total withdrawal of labour is exactly what the government wants – namely, no lawyers. The legal profession may not have engendered much public sympathy over the years, but the important message behind a strike would be about the predicament of the public they serve, not lawyers themselves.

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The Queen’s speech: making it easier to seck people! Threat to the employment tribunal system – May 22 2012

An excellent article from the excellent Justice Gap blog.

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Legal Aid Act – the fight goes on – May 22 2012

Good article from the Legal Action Group – the fight goes on and why the LASPO Act is not the last word on the scope of legalaid.  Read it HERE.

 

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Sam Hallam – A great victory for local campaigners and for justice – May 18 2012

The release of Hackney’s Sam Hallam after years in jail for an offence he did not commit is a great victory for local campaigners and for justice. But as this Guardian article points out:

The miscarriages of justice presently coming to the fore share a theme of lack of disclosure caused – at its most generous – by ineptitude and at worst by dishonesty on the part of some police officers. Tomorrow’s problems may be caused by the defendant’s own solicitors. There is no longer a fee payable for reading the unused material served by the prosecution on the defence. There is often gold to be found hidden deep” among these papers, noted David Jessel at a recent JusticeGap event.
The unused material can run to thousands of pages, and is the perfect place to hide evidence which could undermine the prosecution case. Unless you are a lawyer with a deep sense of justice, there is little motivation to plough through this material for no financial reward, and with many solicitors’ firms laying off staff, there are fewer and fewer people available to do the work.”

That warning applies across the board.

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Now is the time for all good people to come to our (legal) aid – May 17 2012

I am pleased to see that our legal walk next Monday (May 21) has made news in the Hackney Gazette .  Read the article HERE.

And we have just hit the £2000 mark! If you haven’t contributed yet – now is the time for all good people to come to our (legal) aid…

Please check out the online giving page and pass on to others:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=HackneyCommunityLawCentre

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Help needed for Hackney Migrant Centre! – May 14 2012

Hackney Migrant Centre are putting on a benefit at St Paul’s Church in West Hackney on Friday 22nd June.

This will include music, food and drink, a quiz and an auction.  They need help to make this work well.

At the moment they are trying to get interesting items and services to go into our auction (with prizes also needed for the quiz and raffle).

So far they have a couple of signed books and some tickets for local events.  They expect to be able to get similar offers from local shops and venues.  For services we have an offer of a free shiatsu massage.

Do you have any interesting skills you would be willing to sell off to the highest bidder or know someone who might? A sketched portrait?  Cooking a special dinner?

The organisers have also been trying to get someone well known and interesting to present the auction, so any ideas would be welcome.

On the night they’ll need help with cooking, on the bar, on the door etc.

Please get in touch with me HERE if you think you can help.

Many thanks!

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Legal aid is (almost) dead – May 02 2012

Useful article from the Guardian with the added bonus of a pic of HCLC staff!

Nonetheless, it is not the job of the legal profession to resolve all the iniquities involved in access to justice. You do not blame plumbers for winter. Society as a whole is responsible for improving the lot of its citizens through both access to justice and education about rights and responsibilities.”

Read the full article HERE.

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Council in climbdown over disabled woman’s ‘eviction’ – April 30 2012

Well done to the HCLC team – the Hackney Citizen website has reported under the headline Hackney “Council in climbdown over disabled woman’s ‘eviction’”:

A severely disabled woman was given 48 hours by Hackney Council to move to a flat unsuited to her needs and told that she would have made herself ‘intentionally homeless’ if she refused.

Agnes Parma, who is partially sighted, diabetic, clinically obese and now a wheelchair user, was informed on Wednesday (25 April) that she had just two days to move from her nursing home placement, which is funded by Hackney Council, to new accommodation that has not yet been fully adapted to cater for her physical disabilities”.

Hackney Community Law Centre , which is representing Ms Parma, argued that the flat to which Ms Parma has been told she must move is not yet ready for her, and therefore challenged the council’s decision to terminate her placement on 48 hours’ notice …”

The Council has now agreed to her staying for two weeks while things are got ready at her new place …

“.. Wendy Pettifer, Senior Supervising Solicitor at Hackney Community Law Centre said: “We are relieved that our client, Ms Parma, will no longer have to leave her care home today. However, given Ms Parma’s severe medical problems we will be monitoring her housing situation closely.”

Read more HERE.

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Even the WI are concerned about Legal Aid Cuts! – April 25 2012

Even the National Federation of Women’s Institutes is very concerned about legal aid cuts stating: “However we remain concerned that victims of domestic violence will continue to fall through the net; … The NFWI believes that all women who experience domestic violence should have access to legal aid, regardless of their individual circumstances …

Read the rest of the WI’s statement HERE.

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Five things you need to know about the legal aid bill – April 23 2012

A very useful summary of the Legal Aid Bill by the ‘False Economy’ website HERE.

 

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Message from Justice for All – April 23 2012

Justice for All have sent out a message saying,

“In a testament to many months of campaigning by Justice for All members and others, the Lord Chancellor announced some important changes to the Legal Aid Bill last week.

However they don’t yet go far enough, and we still have a few days left to ensure disabled people, domestic violence victims and children are properly protected from the worst of these cuts.

On domestic violence, Government announced a series of changes which campaigners have been demanding for over a year. Justice for All member the Womens Institute explain what these mean  in detail”.

The WI response is HERE.

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The impact of the welfare and housing benefit reforms on Hackney residents – April 18 2012

Congratulations to Sean Canning, HCLC Manager, and Paul Heron, HCLC Solicitor, for their contribution to the London Borough of Hackney’s ‘Community Safety and Social Inclusion Scrutiny Commissio’n on Monday evening.

The Commission is looking at the impact of the welfare and housing benefit reforms on Hackney residents.

Jarlath O’Connell, the clerk has written to say: “I am writing on behalf of Cllr Williams to thank you for your contribution to the meeting of CSSI Scrutiny Commission last night.  The Members were most appreciative of the time and effort you put in to your presentation and to attending to answer their questions as part of the review on the ‘Impact of the welfare and housing benefit reforms”.

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The duty solicitor scheme is desperately needed in our courts – April 18 2012

Please see THIS excellent Guardian article by journalist Jon Robinsalso one of our Law Centre patrons, on the duty solicitor scheme, which is desperately needed in our courts.

Here’s an extract:

What came across was the vital service provided by the two lawyers running the legally-aided advice desks – Carr, followed by Nat Mathews from Hackney Community Law Centre in the afternoon.  Out of the 14 clients lucky enough to see them — there are no advance appointments – all but two achieved positive outcomes. These provided greater security for vulnerable people and their families and might well mean they stay in their homes in the long term. Every one of those 14 had their situation significantly improved by the brief time spent with an adviser – no more than 20 minutes, often less. Shockingly, only two had previously had any advice or seen a lawyer.  The duty solicitors made what seemed like hopeless situations appear manageable – and they mostly were“.

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Bad news for fair access to justice in the UK – April 18 2012

Bad news for fair access to justice in the UK – MPs have overturned all the changes the House of Lords made to ministers’ plans to cut legal aid in England and Wales, the BBC reports.

Peers had inflicted 11 defeats on ministers over proposals to limit the scope of publicly funded support, which critics say threaten access to justice.

Ministers say the changes will speed up the system and save £350m a year.

However, the government has conceded that victims of domestic violence should be given easier access to legal aid than ministers had been planning.

The 11 defeats for the bill in the Lords represented the highest number for a piece of legislation since the coalition came to power in 2010.

Ministers had faced criticism that their changes would make it too difficult for women abused by their husbands and boyfriends to get the advice they needed as the definition of domestic violence was too.

But Justice Secretary Ken Clarke made a U-turn, saying the government was amending the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to make it easier for women to receive the taxpayer-funded support they need.

A source close to Mr Clarke told the BBC it was a “major concession” which had “put to rest the fear” expressed by some MPs on all sides of the House.

The bill returns to the Lords next week and disputed aspects will now pass between the two Houses – in a process known as parliamentary ping-pong – until the legislation is finally approved.

The government wants Parliament to approve the legislation before the end of the current session, which could come as early as next Thursday.

The proposed legislation would effectively reverse the situation in force since 1999 where legal aid has been available for all civil cases unless specifically excluded by law.

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Disabled People Against Cuts Protest (April 18 2012) – April 16 2012

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is organising a protest April 18, 1.30, central London -

We have no more to give. Our benefits, social care and support funding are fast disappearing.  Hundreds of disabled people are losing their jobs.  Pensioners, disabled people, carers and workers pay the costs of tax breaks for the highest earners.

The health service is being carved up and sold through the back door, and large multinationals with profits of billions take on disabled and young people as free labour.

Join us on 18th April to take action against:

- cuts to public services

- health & welfare reform

- forced labour

including benefit cuts, care funding and Loss of Remploy jobs.”

They will also be having an on-line protest for people to join in with if they can’t actually get there. Maybe people could vote or say what they think the main message should be for that. Suggestions write/email Miller and say she should resign and why you think that?

Email Cameron and Paul Burstow, and IDS about all cuts?  Mass email campaign to newspapers that week and week before to highlight all the cuts we face?  Any other ideas?

DPAC is about disabled people and their allies. DPAC is UK based but we know that disabled people in other countries are suffering from austerity cuts and a lack of fundamental rights. We welcome all to join us in fighting for justice and human rights for all disabled people.

Disabled people should not be the scapegoats for the financial mistakes of governments, should not be constantly told that there is no money to support them by millionaire politicians.

We will not tolerate further erosion of our living conditions or our human rights, nor will we sit quietly while they try to take our rights away.

DPAC was formed by a group of disabled people after the 3rd October mass protests against cuts in Birmingham, England. The 3rd October saw the first mass protest against the austerity cuts and their impact on disabled people.  It was led by disabled people under the name of The Disabled Peoples’ Protest.

DPAC co-founders are the original Disabled Peoples’ Protest organisers. Leading coordinator Linda Burnip was instrumental in getting disabled peoples’ voices heard and disabled people represented at the protest, along with, Sam Brackenbury, Bob Williams- Finlay, Tina Hogg, Debbie Jolly begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, Eleanor Lisney, Pete Millington, Dave Lupton, and most important of all: all those that marched in the pouring rain on October the 3rd, all those that joined the virtual protest, and all those that supported us with email campaigns and messages when the march was threatened: all made DPAC a reality.

DPAC is for everyone who believes that disabled people should have full human rights and equality. It is for everyone that refuses to accept that any country can destroy the lives of people just because they are or become disabled or sick. It is for everyone against government austerity measures which target the poor while leaving the wealthy unscathed. It is for everyone who refuses to stay silent about the injustices delivered by wealthy politicians on ordinary people and their lives.

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LASPO bill will make it harder for people in poor countries to seek justice in UK courts – March 26 2012

An aspect fo the Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Bill is that it makes it harder for people in poor countries to seek justice in British courts for human rights breaches by UK multinationals.

As the Bill passes through Parliament, the aid agency CAFOD has warned that the Bill threatens to make it harder for people in poor countries to seek justice in British courts for human rights breaches by UK multinationals.

The Government claims its new Bill will prevent ‘ambulance chasing’ by legal firms using ‘no win-no fee’ arrangements to claim large success fees from defendants.

However, ministers have already admitted there is no wave of spurious human rights cases from overseas. In fact only 11 such cases were brought in the last decade. But a consequence of the Bill’s sweeping provisions will be to also remove the ‘success fee’ paid to specialist law firms that bring human rights abuse cases against UK multinationals operating overseas, substantially reducing the economic viability of these cases for those firms.

These provisions could therefore prevent many claimants in poor countries seeking justice in the UK, even though they are not currently eligible for legal aid and the legislation will therefore provide no savings to the taxpayer, say development experts.

On Tuesday 27 March 2012, the House of Lords will be voting on a crucial question for the UK’s international record on business and human rights.

In the middle of hundreds of amendments to the tentacular Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Bill which is currently passing through Parliament, the Lords will finally vote on amendments designed to make sure that overseas victims of abuses committed by UK-based companies will still be able to bring cases in the English courts.

The need for these amendments have been highlighted by CAFOD, Amnesty International, Oxfam and others, and supported by cross-bencher Baroness Jean Coussins, as well as LibDem and Labour peers. And yet, the Government has refused to budge.

To read more click HERE.

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Message for everyone from Justice For All – March 23 2012

Government defeated, but we need to keep it that way.

Over the last 2 weeks Government were defeated an astonishing 9 times on the Legal Aid Bill in the House of Lords. It is almost unprecedented and a testament to your campaigning. Read all the details HERE.

But Government can still overturn all our good work, and snatch legal aid away from disabled people and victims of domestic violence. We have two weeks to persuade them not to.

So please could you take a minute to:

Email your MP by clicking HERE.

And encourage all your friends and colleagues to do the same!

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Women face a triple jeopardy - March 20 2012

Heather Stewart in the Observer last Sunday wrote a good article (based on evidence from the Fawcett Society) on how women are disproportionately the worst hit by Government cuts.  The most recent figures, released last week, showed that while the number of men claiming unemployment benefit has risen 88,000 over the past year, the number of female recipients has shot up by 162,000. On the wider International Labour Organisation measure, women’s unemployment stands at 1.13 million, the highest level for 25 years.  Read Heather’s article HERE.

Heather’s article highlights ” A new report from the Fawcett Society, (which) collects together a battery of evidence showing that, between job cuts, benefits freezes and reductions in legal aid, it’s women who will be worst hit.

Anna Bird, Fawcett’s acting chief executive, says: “It’s when you put all of these policies together that you can really see what the whole picture will be. What will happen over time is, it’s going to become less common for women to hold down jobs, to balance home and family life. Women will be more likely to live in poverty. All these things that we have got used to going in one direction, they’re going to go into reverse.

You can read the Fawcett Society’s report HERE.

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“Fawcett argues that the way the cuts are being implemented means women face what it calls “triple jeopardy”: they are disproportionately hit by wage freezes and job cuts in the public sector; they tend to be the frontline users of public services, so they are hurt most by the closure of libraries, Sure Start centres and other local facilities; and because of their traditional role as carers, they often find themselves having to step in where state help is withdrawn.”

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Rights for Women – March 14 2012

Rights of Women is a useful website. Check out this briefing from them to the House of Lords.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LAPSO) in its current form will remove meaningful access to justice from women who have experienced and are at risk of gender-based violence and abuse including domestic and sexual violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labour.

Violence against women is one of the most heinous, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world…[L]et us take this issue with the deadly seriousness that it deserves.” Ban Ki moon, United Nations Secretary General.

In its Call to End Violence against Women and Girls published in November 2010, the Government stressed its commitment to end violence against women and girls and ensure victims have the support they need to rebuild their lives.

We urge Peers to hold Government to this commitment and scrutinise the impact that the removal from scope of entire areas of law will have on access to justice and safety for women who have experienced gender-based violence.

Violence against Women is a pressing issue in the UK.  There has been a concerted effort and real commitment under the current and preceding governments to prevent and respond to it.

Yet the removal of civil legal aid will undermine progress made and effectively bar women’s access to their rights and the legal remedies available to them, increasing the risks to their (and their children’s) safety from violence and abuse.

 

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One Law for the rich, No law for the poor – March 13 2012

Very good article by Nick Cohen HERE.

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Congratulations to Justice for All – March 09 2012

Congratulations to everyone who has emailed a peer or their MP, signed a petition, written to their local paper or taken part in events.  Peers showed that they have been listening to Justice for All and other organisations – who have been campaigning against parts of this Bill for 18 months now.

One of our top priority amendments – to retain legal aid for welfare benefit appeals and reviews – was won by 39 votes  on Wednesday evening, after a long debate with powerful speeches by peers from across the House.

Another crucial vote on ensuring protection for victims of domestic violence was won on Monday, alongside two more technical amendments.  Wednesday also saw a narrow defeat for government on clinical negligence, and an important amendment on welfare benefit appeals to higher courts.

Alongside the votes, the Government announced some important concessions, including that the Bill will be changed to allow Government to add as well as remove areas of law from legal aid.

On Monday the debate resumes, and first up is another amendment supported by Justice for All to keep legal aid for housing benefit help for people at risk of homelessness.

The campaign must continue!

Despite these important victories the Government can still overturn the amendments in the House of Commons. So Justice for All will be launching a new campaign aimed at MPs next week. It’s vital we persuade them to support the changes won in the House of Lords.

Read more on the BBC website HERE.

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Lord Hush Puppy prowls the carpeted corridor…March 09 2012

Lord Hush Puppy has been prowling the carpeted corridor again. Displaying his usual sensitivity about those from other countries (who all have exactly the same legal system as the UK) he has released “a pungent comment about peers behaving as if they’re in the Greek parliament” according to the BBC.

Does this mean that he can’t understand what they are saying – that they are saying his Bill is an attack on the poor and that he can’t count to save his life? Perhaps he needs his sidekick Count Jan Ugly to stop sucking the blood out of law centres and help with understanding that the more you take away from people with the one hand, the more you end up paying with the other. It’s not hard to understand that human problems do not go away and eventually somewhere down the line have to be faced.

But then for Lord Hush Puppy, it’s just hard to understand anyone else anyway – unless of course they’re some long dead, or nearly dead, jazz musician.

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It just isn’t right…..March 09 2012

Just isn’t right is it. Are they really human beings these people who seem to be in control of Government?

The Refugee Council and Law Centres Federation   have written to the Legal Aid Minister, Jonathan Djanogly MP, expressing concern at the government’s proposals to cut legal aid which will leave children without access to legal advice on immigration cases.

Mr Djanogly last year made a statement that the gaps left by the cuts would be filled by the Refugee Council, law centres and pro bono advice and representation:

In most immigration cases, a child’s interests are represented by their parent or guardian. Most cases in which a child is unaccompanied involve an asylum claim, and legal aid will remain for those cases as at present. Unaccompanied children with an asylum or immigration issue would have a social worker assigned to them, whose role would include helping the child to gain access to the same advice and support as a child who was permanently settled in the UK. They could also offer assistance with filling in forms and explaining terms, and give emotional support. Legal support in such immigration cases may be found, if needed, from law centres and from pro bono legal representation. The Refugee Council provides services for separated children, which can include litigation friends“.  (Hansard HC, Report, 31 Oct 2011 : Columns 689-690)

In their letter, the Refugee Council and the Law Centres Federation have pointed out that this will not be possible due to increased pressures on their services amid cuts across the board, among other reasons. We have urged the government in this letter to rethink their plans and make sure that children in need of expert help with immigration matters are not forgotten.

Read more HERE.

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Austerity isn’t working – March 08 2012

Austerity isn’t working. Britain’s better off with the alternatives.  This great poster (pictured right) with some unfortunate echoes  caught my eye.  It’s to publicise March 21st 2012, the day the man in charge of Britain’s sinking economy, George Osborne, presents his government’s third austerity budget.

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The Tommy Cooper of figures….March 08 2012

Here’s something even Lord Hush Puppy of MuchDeception, the man who has numbers and nicotine at his fingertips, could grasp. We know you are the Tommy Cooper of the figures business, but here’s a simple diagram that says it’s going to cost £18m more on clincial negligence alone. No laughing matter. May need your friend Count Jan Ugly to help you to count it all out on your fingers. It’s a vast sum. Quite huge.

1. At least 500,000 people will be denied justice

The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will deny legal aid to more than half a million people a year, according to the government’s own research. Legal aid will be removed from most cases relating to debt, family break-up (including contact with children), education, clinical negligence, welfare benefits, housing, employment and immigration. The most vulnerable in society – those who are poor, old, disabled or mentally ill – will be hardest hit.

2. Legal aid cuts cost more than they save

Legal aid cuts: clinical negligence.  The Ministry of Justice plans to cut legal aid by £350 million a year, but it will cost other government departments more.

For example:

  • King’s College London found that cutting £10.5 million from clinical negligence advice will cost the NHS nearly three times as much.
  • Citizens Advice Bureaux point out that housing advice costing £80 can save thousands for councils who are legally required to house homeless families.The Ministry of Justice has admitted its predicted savings are based on speculation – and been reprimanded by the parliamentary justice and public accounts committees.  Even those who normally support cuts, like former Tory minister Norman Tebbit and TaxPayers’ Alliance head Matthew Elliott, have joined the opposition.

3. The bill undermines the rule of law

In the words of the independent commission of inquiry into legal aid:

There can be no semblance of equality before the law when those who cannot afford to pay a lawyer go unrepresented or receive a worse kind of representation than those who can“.

4. The voluntary sector can’t fill the gap

Law centres and citizens advice bureaux have already closed due to council cuts. Legal aid is a lifeline for many of the remaining centres.

5. It’s not just legal aid: the bill makes it harder for anyone without huge wealth to get justice

One alternative to legal aid is to instruct a solicitor on a no-win, no-fee basis. But changes to the rules on insurance mean that those who lose cases may be exposed to massive debt – even the loss of their homes. Only the very wealthy will be able to afford the risk.

Support the campaigns for access to justice at Save Legal Aid, Justice For All and Sound Off for Justice.

  • Download the legal aid bill factsheet and view earlier factsheets on the deficit by visiting www.falseeconomy.org.uk

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Lord Hush Puppy of Much Deception – March 06 2012

Tucked away in a memoir by former Treasury chief secretary David Laws is the story of how Ken Clarke became the first cabinet minister to agree his department’s cuts.

According to Laws, Ken told him: “What are you asking for again? Three-something isn’t it? Yes, absolutely, I’ll look at it but I’m sure it won’t be a problem“.   This discussion is the root cause of Ken Clarke Legal Aid, Sentencing of Prisoners and Offenders Bill (LASPOBILL).

Here’s a trick. It’s an accounting trick. You have to cut down on spending so you stop spending on something, say, for arguments sake, legal aid.

However, you then find out that in fact for every £1 cut you end up paying £8 elsewhere.  Now you see it, now you don’t. Then just to add to it, a judge pops up, and well, we all know about how inaccurate and biassed judges are, part of the evil legal lobby and all that, and says – “We will see more people with cases with no prospects of success because they have not been filtered out, as they are at the moment, through good advice… The absence of legal help also means that cases will tend to be less well prepared for the tribunal, which will extend the amount of time we have to invest in the case“.

So even more spending. Then it looks like cutting that £1 is going to hurt women and children who are the victims of domestic violence not to mention cutting the access to justice for hundreds of thousands of people. Even more spending. Now you see it, now you don’t.

But if you’re Lord Hush Puppy, the misnamed justice minister, you can just dismiss it all with a wave of the magic nicotine stained hand.  Just the legal lobby causing trouble again. Why can’t these people let us get on with our conjuring and stop interfering and ruining our tricks?

And then there’s the little matter of £18m blown on interpreters, again, all a big fuss about nothing. Chickenfeed as our friend Boris is fond of saying.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  All made up by lawyers profiteering from the hugely generous system we have here compared to anywhere else.  Like lawyers in law centres who earn vast sums like £25k a year.  And anywhere else being exactly the same as us, because we invented the system and everyone copies the Brits as you know.

And of course, then there’s the illegal lobby, who have got away with £1.5bn in unpaid fines.  Oh, sorry, we mustn’t mention that. We only talk about savings, not unpaid bills.  We hide them under the Margaret Thatcher replica ashtray on the mantlepiece alongside the Alderman Roberts mug.  Now you don’t see it, now you are never going to see it.

So what is the trick? The trick is to make just £1 disappear from the expenditure side of the UK accounts but then to put so many more pounds back on with just a wave of the magic hand and then disappear it all.  Derren Brown would have been impressed at the suggestion involved.

Jus’ like that, as one clown used to say. Ken Clarke wasn’t it? Before he became Lord Hush Puppy of Much Deception.  Now you see it.

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Lord Hush Puppy now stepping on the toes of faith leaders – March 05 2012

Lord Hush Puppy now stepping on the toes of faith leaders – competing with Lansley as to how many sections of our society he can offend and upset.

Legal aid bill fails domestic abuse victims, faith leaders have warned in a sharply worded letter to Ken Clarke saying that reforms could leave victims trapped in cycle of mistreatment and fear.

The letter to Clarke sounding the alarm about domestic abuse victims is signed by 10 leading clerics and heads of faith organisations, including the Catholic archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev Peter Smith, the Anglican bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Timothy Stevens, and the heads of the Baptist Union, Methodist Conference, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Salvation Army, the Network of Sikh Organisations and others.  The bishop of Leicester is the Church of England’s lead in the Lords on welfare and constitutional issues.

Their letter warns Clarke that “legal aid is nothing short of essential for many victims of domestic abuse to escape the horrendous circumstances that they face“.

Without this support they would be unable to secure recourse in relation to fundamental issues such as injunctions, housing or access to children, potentially trapping them in a cycle of mistreatment and fear”.

THIS article is a good roundup of current developments.

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Sign up to the Justice for All campaign! – March 5th 2012

Can I encourage people to sign up to the Justice For All appeal.

This week the House of Lords will vote on crucial amendments to protect legal aid on Monday and Wednesday.  It’s our last chance to change the Bill.

On Tuesday, MPs get another chance to debate the cuts, particularly their impact on not-for-profit advice agencies, at a short ‘Westminster Hall’ debate.

Please email your MP to ask them to speak up for legal aid at the debate.

As well as speaking, MPs can show their support for crucial amendments being debated in the Lords. And if peers know that MPs are supportive it could make them more likely to vote through changes. So it’s vital we keep up the pressure on both.

It’s easy to fill in your postcode and send the template letter to MPs, although try and customise it if you can. So please email your MP now and let them know why legal aid matters to you.

Ahead of the debates next week many organisations have been producing new briefings and reports. Most of them are on the Justice for All website.

They include briefings on:

  • Welfare benefits
  • Housing
  • The Telephone Gateway
  • Domestic violence

The Westminster Hall debate for MPs this week.

More information HERE.

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Ask the Liberal Democrats to support welfare advice – March 01 2012

Play your part in the growing movement to support free legal advice.  There are lots of ways to get involved, depending how much time you can give.  Many Lords want to save legal aid for the most complex welfare benefits cases.   The votes of Liberal Democrat peers will be crucial to winning any votes on this.  Support the campaign by writing to Peers HERE.

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Have your say on Ombudsman Services! – February 29 2012

Can I encourage you to take part in a survey on Ombudsman services which is seeking to find out how different sections of the community view them.  Even if you have no experience of any Ombudsman service, the Centre for Justice would be grateful if you could let them know what you think by completing their short online survey HERE.

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Reversing inequalities – article by Alice Forbess on the Justice Gap blog – February 27 2012

Good article by Alice Forbess on the excellent  Justice Gap blog concerning her own study into how to reverse inequalities.   A crucial line in the article reads – “The loss of access to the formal legal realm, rather than the loss of access to advice as such, is perhaps the gravest consequence of the current cuts.”

I’ve copied some key points paragraphs from the article below:

… Research from the LSE suggests that access to specialist legal advice may be the first to go if the government goes ahead with the implementation of cuts to civil legal aid, which will eliminate from scope all cases involving social welfare law and most immigration and asylum matters.  Whilst general advice may remain available (at least in large metropolitan areas) specialist legal advice and representation will be increasingly hard to find“.

The 12 month study Welfare, Rights and Law (Alice Forbess and Deborah James, both social anthropologists) documents how two vital London legal advice agencies – Southwark Law Centre and Community Links – plan to adjust to the projected loss of legal aid“.

In family law, mediation is touted as an appropriate route for the vast majority of cases, and in social welfare law the Universal Credit system, to be introduced next year, will replace the current independent mechanism of appeal with an internal one, where the merit of challenges to decisions will be reviewed ‘in-house’ before it can go to an independent arbitrator at the second stage.  The many clients with poor language skills or suffering from severe physical or mental disabilities are unlikely to make it to this stage without independent advice. In addition to this, many cases (for instance those of trafficking and torture victims in the UK illegally and seeking to regularise their situation) simply cannot be addressed without access to specialist legal services

” … Fundamentally, the law accomplishes something which alternative means of dispute resolution do not: it can reverse enormous power inequalities by temporarily creating a level playing field between vulnerable individuals and powerful actors such as state organisations, and it can issue decisions binding on the powers that be.  The loss of access to the formal legal realm, rather than the loss of access to advice as such, is perhaps the gravest consequence of the current cuts.”

Read the whole article HERE if you can.

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BBC Radio 4 ‘Law in Action’ programme (broadcast Tuesday February 21st 2012) – February 24 2012

Last night as I listened to Kenneth Clarke, the Justice minister on the BBC iPlayer talking to Joshua Rozenberg on Radio 4′s ‘Law in Action – Legal aid changes: long overdue reform or denial of justice?‘ programme I noticed that on screen underneath was a picture of a gun and the words ‘For you – how to commit murder‘.   I say no more.

Mr Clarke is fond of over stressing words like ‘vast‘ as in sums of money spent on legal aid and ‘flood‘ of legal claims. Such is his considerable and pudgy grasp of figures.  He seems to think that the House of Lords acting as a second democratic chamber is hastening their reform.  Very threatening but then you realise it’s all empty rhetoric because it becomes apparent he is hoping to join them (Memo to David Cameron: Send the hush puppy kid upstairs.  Make it soon).

But then Mr Clarke (now awaiting ennoblement) says: “We have by far the most generous system in the world.  It has to be cut back“.  Of course.  We absolutely cannot have such generosity to the poor but to bankers seeking ‘vast‘ bonuses … and to the ‘flood‘ of pawnbrokers and loan sharks … well, that’s different isn’t it.   In the same way that being a Director of British Tobacco (for example) would not in the least influence your decision – making skills on the hazards of smoking.

And just to jazz it up a bit, Mr Clarke thinks most of the legal aid advice is just about “some reasonable general knowledge of the welfare system“, not even really ‘legal’, and “some quizzing of the claimant to check they haven’t left out some vital aspect of their claim“.  So, quite easy then.  Even a Minister of Justice could do it.

But what is really to blame for all the vastness and flooding and even the odd amount of ‘huge‘ is the heavy legal lobby.  They are the real villians of the piece who have got all this legal aid.  But strangely, he’s not cutting the lobby.  It’s so much easier to attack the poor because they can’t hit back.

But not to worry because after the amptutation there will be a magical settling down with a structure of fees eventually emerging, like beautiful butterflies from their legal aid cocoons and everything will be lovely once more in the garden, and Lord Clarke of Hush Puppy (for such will he be) can at last rest in his nook, puffing away on his fag and trying to interest passers-by in old gramophone records of ‘I aint gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more‘.

What we are seeing here is the clock being turned back but as we know, whatever manipulation of the timepiece you do, time and the gap between rich and poor keeps moving on.  Clarke seems not concerned at all that 600,000 people are being taken out of scope, preferring to focus on the difficulty of estimating the cost, but it’s probably around £350m, which is not too bad for a day’s work for a banker actually.

Vast in fact.  One might even venture huge.

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Projects, Peers and Positivity – February 17th 2012

I am very grateful to Matrix Chambers for the giving of £7,200 towards our volunteer and intern schemes over the next two years.  Wonderful!

And even more pleased when their Chief Exec Lindsay Scott (who also has lots of connections with Hackney and a love of the Hackney Empire) took us into their extremely busy main department and produced a big fat law book – ‘EU Law for UK Lawyers‘ written by Matrix QC Aidan O’Neill –  as another added gift.  That was a lovely final flourish to our visit to their Grays Inn offices.

We are beginning to see a flow of letters into the centre from peers, leading lawyers and other, agreeing to become patrons and Friends of the law centre.  More of that later!

I am really encouraged that the worth and value of our work is being recognised and I hope the staff are taking heart from this.  To help the poor is an inspiring and humbling process.

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New Youth Advice Service at the Off Centre – February 13th 2012

If you need legal advice on a housing problem or inappropriate accommodation and are aged 16 – 24 Hackney Community Law Centre is now a new service running at Off Centre and the Levy Centre.

The services take place every Thursday morning after then at either the Off Centre or the Levy Centre’s premises.

Hackney Community Law Centre will be working alongside the Off Centre and the Levy Centre’s Advice & Advocacy workers to provide specialist legal advice on things like – Homeless Applications, claiming benefits, rent arrears etc.

Contact the Off Centre on (0208 986 4016) or Hackney Community Law Centre on 07530 845 303 to make an appointment and check where that week’s session will be held.

More detailed information about the new Youth Advice Service can be found HERE.

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The Government’s ‘misplaced and misleading’ welfare benefits cap argument – February 6th 2012

The government’s spin on its top-slicing and arbitrary £26k welfare benefit cap is that it is “fair” to working families vis-a-vis the jobless.  The argument is misplaced and misleading in almost every respect, says Simon Barrow, in this article unpacking complex issues …

“The problem with the truth is that it’s complicated. Lies are simple, they can be altered to fit any audience, they can be sensational without any boring honest bits to dilute the story. Honesty doesn’t make headlines. That’s the problem with the Welfare Reform Bill…”

Read more HERE.

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Hackney Council motion on fuel poverty – February 3rd 2012

Hackney Council has become very concerned about the effects of fuel poverty and has passed the following motion HERE.

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Their Cuts - Not OursTheir Cuts, Not Ours! – February 1st 2012

MPs in the Westminster House of Commons will be debating the Welfare Reform Bill on Wednesday 1 February 2012, one day after the House of Lords final debate.  There are important issues at stake for disabled people, including the young disabled and those with cancer, for people on housing benefit, for lone parents, vulnerable women and larger families.  The LRC, a broad alliance of campaign groups and trade unions, has produced a useful summary of the key amendments passed by the Lords, setting out briefly the points that those talking with their MPs may want to make.  These are reproduced HERE with grateful acknowledgement.

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Humiliating defeat for Welfare Reform Bill! – February 1st 2012

Lobbying of MPs is set to intensify in the next 18 hours, after the government suffered a seventh humiliating defeat on its controversial Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) yesterday (Jan 31).

The latest defeat was inflicted by the House of Lords at the WRB Third Reading, in relation to an amendment aimed at protecting disabled children from cuts. Crossbenchers were mainly responsible for the latest victory for poverty, disability, children’s and benefit campaigners – backed by charities, churches, medical professionals and community organisations across the country. Two bishops, two Conservative peers, seven Lib Dems (a medium-sized rebellion) and six others joined 168 Labour peers and 61 Crossbench ones. The amendment was carried by 246 votes to 230, a margin of sixteen against the government.

Labour’s whip Lord Bassam commented that this was “the worst run of defeats for the government in the House of Lords since the General Election. Given that they have a political majority of 70, that is quite an achievement.” The successful amendment proposes: Clause 10, Page 4, line 36, after “disabled” insert “such additional amount to be paid at either a higher rate, or a lower rate, which shall be no less than two-thirds of the higher rate as may be prescribed”. That is, it proposed that the disability addition for children on lower rate of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) should be no less than two-thirds of the £77 proposed for disabled children on higher rate DLA under Universal Credit.

Government minister Lord Freud could not assure the House that his administration would protect disabled children from cuts, and commentators say that this is the reason the coalition lost heavily once more. The Welfare Reform Bill has now suffered four defeats on disability issues, one on housing benefit, one on an attempt to charge mothers for using the Child Support Agency (CSA) and one on exempting child benefit from the £26,000 per household benefit cap. During the debate, Crossbencher Baroness Meacher argued passionately that there are hundreds of thousand of families desperate about cuts to disabled children’s benefits. Baroness Howarth argued said that claims to being a civilised society required that “appropriate funding” for disabled children was “absolutely crucial”.

Ministers said that benefit payments to children have outpaced those to adults in recent years, and need to be realigned. They have also argued that the higher child rates fail to prepare disabled youngsters for the “difficult” drop in income when they reach adulthood. Disability researcher Jenny Morris points out: “In other words, disabled children should get used to living in poverty in childhood as that is what awaits them as they move into adulthood.” The shift to a more targeted approach, focusing benefits only on the most disabled, is a constant theme of government welfare reform, she points out. But this means that there are many thousands of losers that the Department of Work and Pensions keeps ignoring in its litany-like response to the defeats inflicted on it by the Lords. Dr Morris writes on her blog: “Another of the government’s justifications for changes to the ‘disability addition’ for disabled children is that it is targeting help to those who are most ‘severely disabled’.

This is part and parcel of the residualisation of the welfare state – the process by which it is becoming something that only those in the greatest need can look to receive help from. This is not a social security system on which we can all rely at times of misfortune and need, something in which therefore we all have stake. Instead it is a benefit system which – like social housing has become – is only available to the most marginalised of social groups.”

Attention now passes to the House of Commons tomorrow, Wednesday 1 February 2012, where the Welfare Reform Bill receives its final reading before passing for Royal Assent. The government is likely to make further concessions, but so far is steadfastly refusing to listen to expert and specialist opinion and the huge opposition its plans have generated.

* Pat’s Petition (Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families): http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968 *

38 Degrees action in disability and welfare cuts – http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/cuts-to-support-email-mp

 

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The six myths of IDS’ benefits cap – January 25th 2012

The Child Poverty Action Group have exposed what they dub the ‘six myths of of IDS’s benefits cap’:

1. The cap is just for out of work claimants of benefits

2. Claimants have more money than working families

3. Families with a disabled member will not be affected

4. There will be no behavioural changes and social impacts

5. The cap will deliver fiscal savings

6. This is a new policy

Read more HERE.

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Further defeat looms for the Government on child maintenance charges - January 24th 2012

From the Ginger Bread organisation -

On Wednesday 25 January, the last day of the Welfare Reform Bill’s Report Stage, the Lords will turn its attention to the Government’s child maintenance proposals - where another government defeat is threatened.  Under an amendment tabled by the widely respected Conservative Peer, Lord Mackay of Clashfern – former Lord Chancellor under Mrs Thatcher – parents with main care of children who have no alternative but to use the statutory maintenance service in
order to get maintenance for their children would be exempted from government charges.  Read more HERE.

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Gloucester Law Centre campaigns on legal aid – January 24th 2012

I came across this excellent article on Gloucester Law Centre and the campaign they are running against the legal aid cuts.  The key paragraph reads: “We hope that all local members of the House of Lords as well as Gloucestershire’s MPs will support these amendments and do their best to prevent there becoming one law for the rich and another for the poor”.  At Hackney Community Law Centre we fully agree.

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Ministry of Justice Green paper – ‘Justice & Security’ – January 23rd 2012

A considerable matter of concern for me is the Ministry of Justice Green Paper entitled Justice and Security.  The green paper is intended to pave the way to legislation which will bar journalists- and others – from court proceedings where matters deemed by ministers to be “sensitive” are to be raised, and where reporting could be said to be contrary to the “public interest”.

The proposals are available to read HERE.  It is a fascinating document!

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is putting together a response – you can add your view by sending to: campaigns@nuj.org.uk

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Wandsworth Council finally listens – January 20th 2012

Good to see that even a council like Wandsworth finally listens to voice of sense and caring and backs down over threats to evict tenant over her son’s riot conviction (Read all about the case HERE).  HCLC has been key in campaigning against such appalling discrimination.

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Legal Aid cuts will put domestic violence victims at risk – January 18th 2012

I was very interested to read this article in the Guardian newspaper about the effect of the legal aid cut proposals on victims of domestic violence.  A new report reveals that the proposed cuts to legal aid (currently being debated in Parliament) will put domestic violence victims at risk.

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Their Cuts, Not Ours! – January 13th 2012

The government is proposing to cut the Social Fund, which provides emergency support for poor, sick and vulnerable people in desperate need.  A coalition of charities and welfare groups explains why this is wrong.  Click HERE to read more.

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Their Cuts, Not Ours! – January 12th 2012

Their Cuts - Not Ours

Buoyed by a stunning victory in the House of Lords, disabled rights activists and their supporters are pledging to step up the campaign for welfare justice.

The government was defeated by large votes on three crucial amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) last night (January 11 2012), thanks to the commitment of Crossbench Peers such as Lord Patel and Baroness Meacher, the votes of Labour members, and intensive lobbying and publicity from spartacusreport campaigners.

Now Labour MP John McDonnell has tabled a Parliamentary Question asking for a statement from the Government in response to the ‘Responsible Reform’ report (also known as the Spartacus report) produced by disabled people themselves. This exposes what critics calls the ‘sham’ official consultation on Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Find out more by visiting the ‘Their Cuts Not Ours‘ Facebook page HERE.

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London Borough of Hackney’s motion supporting the Justice for All Campaign – January 2012

I was very grateful to the London Borough of Hackney (LBH) for passing the following motion to support the Justice for All campaign:

RESOLVED that:

This Council:

  • Believes that access to justice is a right that should be available to all and, ensuring that individuals are not excluded from the courts system due to lack of finance was deemed fundamental to ensuring the principles of equality before the law when it was created in 1949.
  • Believes there are unexplored alternatives to these cuts which mean up to 77% of legal aid funding will be lost to all advice agencies in the borough.
  • Notes the evidence in Hackney which shows that a cut of £1 in legal aid will waste between £10 to £100 and has not been properly assessed by the Government.
  • Deplores the Government’s proposal to make legal aid only available through a phone service when a large number of people in a multi-cultural area like Hackney use face to face services.
  • Notes the valuable support given to what is a high quality advice services in the borough by Team Hackney.
  • Is concerned that the proposal to remove from scope – employment advice, education welfare, debt advice and to reduce provision in family, immigration and housing advice – will have a catastrophic impact for those Hackney residents who will need advice at a time when government policy will result in lost jobs, benefits and tenancies.
  • Feels particularly alarmed at the disproportionate impact that these proposals will have on women, protected groups as well as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic residents in the borough.
  • Supports the Justice for All campaign and asks the Government to think again and talk to advice agencies in inner city areas.”

I am also very proud that LBH was the first local authority to offer its support to Justice for All in this way.

To find out more about how you can support the Justice for All campaign, please click HERE.