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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Concerning a heroic lawyer, an angry judge and washed hands!

In yesterday’s blog I mentioned the massive amounts of free work carried out by lawyers, and which barely gets a mention in the mainstream media.

There can be no greater example than the heroic efforts of Rebecca Stevens of Withy King, Solicitors. She has represented the parents of a child in adoption proceedings. It is a case where there are plans to place the child for adoption. Both parents have learning difficulties.  This is a case which is crying out for independent representation. Rebecca Stevens has been acting free of charge and it is estimated that she has done at least 100 hours of unpaid work. I cannot see the tabloid press queuing up to tell the world!

The case came before Mr. Justice Munby last week. He is the President of the Family Division of the High Court. He paid tribute to the remarkable efforts of Ms Stevens referring to her  

‘devotion to the client far above and far beyond the call of duty’

He then went on to deliver a judgment which should send shock waves through the Ministry of Justice. He said that the government has ‘washed its hands’ of the problem of ensuring that these parents are properly represented. 

“Thus far the state has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the state itself has created – for the state has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession.
This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable.’”

He said that it is unfair that representation is only available if a lawyer is willing to work for nothing. He has ordered that there be a hearing to decide who should fund the representation. He has invited the Justice Secretary, the Legal aid Agency, The Courts’ Service and the Local Authority all to attend to make representations.

In National Pro Bono week there cannot be a stronger example of the shocking state of Access to Justice in this country.  

The High Court’s most senior Family Judge has now said it – enough is enough. This cannot continue. It should be unthinkable that the state can bring a court action against citizens and then deprive them of representation.

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