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Thursday, 23 June 2022

Let's all go down the Strand - London Legal Walk 2022

 On Tuesday next week – 28th June – I will be getting the train (I hope!) to London to do my second London Legal Walk. Last year I did it as part of my trio of legal walks in Liverpool, Carlisle and London. This year it is just London and then of course Liverpool in September.

The London walk is a unique experience. In 2021 there were 8500 walkers across 650 teams. Walkers include the Lord Chief Justice, members of the Supreme Court, Members of Parliament and celebrities including the legend that is Judge Rinder.

Why do we do it?

The 2022 walks come at a time when the need for free legal help has never been greater. As we head deeper into the cost of living crisis, people need help with advice on debt, housing, welfare benefits, employment and of course immigration. Law Centres and similar agencies perform a heroic service for the country in meeting that need. They are able to keep their doors open because of the support that they get from the legal profession and from charitable trusts.

My first job as a real lawyer (!) was at the Vauxhall Law Centre in Liverpool. We thought we had it tough. But with local authority funding and legal aid, we didn’t know we were born! Vauxhall is still providing fantastic support for people in inner city Liverpool –



Or how about this from the other side of the country in Suffolk –



This is the sort of work that is done across the country. Much of it gets little publicity. Where would we be without it!

The legal walks are part of the heartbeat of centres like this.

This is why we do it!

This year I am walking with a team from the Society of Labour Lawyers. You can support the cause by visiting this link –

https://londonlegalsupporttrust.enthuse.com/pf/society-of-labour-lawyers

Every penny, or fiver, or more counts!

If you are doing the walk I will be at the Knights Templar Pub from about 3.30pm. Come and say hello and share a selfie!!








Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Good news for Claire - let's hope that this changes everything

 

It was just over two years ago that I wrote about the disturbing case of Claire Matthews who found herself struck off after leaving a briefcase on train. Her desperate attempts to try and retrieve the situation ended badly –

https://thestevecornforthblog.blogspot.com/2020/04/in-which-losing-briefcase-turns-out-far.html

The disciplinary tribunal referred to the damage to the reputation of the profession –

“The damage to the reputation of the profession by the Respondent’s misconduct was significant as the public would trust a solicitor not to conceal the loss of data by telling untruths to their colleagues and their employer. The Respondent’s conduct was a significant departure from the complete integrity, probity and trustworthiness expected of a solicitor.”

I commented at the time that her treatment was a stark contract to that of a senior member of the bar who was suspended after headbutting a junior, female colleague.

There was an understandable outcry about the way Claire had been treated. It was particularly disturbing that there had been little consideration of her mental health.

Leigh Day and three leading barristers agreed to act for her pro bono. In March 2021 the Law Society Gazette reported that following submission of medical evidence, her case was to be referred back to the SDT –

https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/struck-off-junior-solicitor-claire-matthews-to-have-case-re-heard-by-sdt/5107883.article

We have now had the news that the entire case against her has been dropped. She can restart her career. This is clearly good news for her. It is a credit to her that she has continued the fight. It is also a credit to the profession that the almost unanimous cry that this was wrong has been heard. But it is a shame that it came to this. We have to ask what has damaged the reputation of the profession; a simple mistake in extremely difficult circumstances or the pursuit of a young lawyer who presents no risk whatsoever? I think that some damage has been done. Most non lawyers who were aware of the story, shook their heads in disbelief.

If anything, positive comes from this it must be that there is a seismic shift in the way the legal profession treats threats similar cases. It is easy to criticise the SRA, SDT, employers etc. But to some degree don’t we all need to accept some responsibility.

There is now a refreshing move towards openness about mental health issues. I remember the time when it was a sign of weakness to admit to problems that can affect us all at some time. We must never again punish lawyers who are then become afraif to admit mistakes. All firms and chambers should actively promote a culture of openness and support.

Friday, 4 March 2022

Legal Aid and Inquests - again!



 I have rarely been at an Inquest that was not adversarial.

In all of my years of practice, a constant theme has been the injustice faced by family members at Coroners’ Inquests. I have attended many such inquests, normally in the context of Clinical Negligence cases. The health professionals would always be represented by experienced lawyers. Those of us who represented families would normally do so on a pro bono basis. They can be complex, technically difficult and come at a difficult time.

I have rarely been at an Inquest that was not adversarial. This is entirely understandable. Those representing professional people owe a duty to them to ensure that no stone is left unturned when their reputation or even career might be at stake.  It is inevitable that such hearings will be adversarial. But there is an inevitable imbalance. The NHS has considerable resources to fund legal representation. The families have little or none.  

Which brings us to the current debate about extending the scope of legal aid to cover a right of representation for families, particularly in cases involving the state. On 24th February 2022 the Judicial Review and Courts Bill Committee in the House of Lords discussed this very topic. They were considering an amendment to the Bill that would make legal aid available in these cases.

Speaking for the Government was Lord Wolfson of Tredegar.  His Lordship acknowledged that the families should be at the heart of an inquest. He then went on to argue that it would be counter productive to allow legal aid for families –

“There is a risk that having additional lawyers at an inquest will not provide an overall improvement for the bereaved and could have the unintended consequence of turning an inquisitorial event into a significantly more complex defensive case, which could, in the majority of cases, prolong the distress of a bereaved family”

The sad fact is that most inquests are defensive. 

The sad fact is that most inquests are defensive. They do not become less adversarial just because one party is represented, and the other is not. It certainly narrows the opportunity for scrutiny of evidence, but that rather defeats the point of what is meant to be an inquisitorial process.

So the plan is to have fewer lawyers lined up against the unrepresented families. 

Lord Wolfson’s suggestions for addressing any imbalance are discouraging. He referred to a protocol that – “ensures that where the state is represented, it will consider the number of lawyers instructed so as to support an inquisitorial approach” So the plan is to have fewer lawyers lined up against the unrepresented families. He then referred to Exceptional Case Public Funding which is far from straightforward!

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2022-02-24b.430.1

In fact, it looks like the government is doing all it can to ensure powerful representation for … the government, whilst presenting every argument available to ensure that families do not have the same. If the process is not adversarial or defensive why is public money spent on lawyers for one and not the other. We don’t call them ‘parties’ but we all know that this is what they are.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Concerning the English Language, Boris Johnson and dripping clocks


As you know, I normally rant on here about matters that concern the law and legal practice. But this post is all about my worries concerning the English Language. Firstly, I need to declare an interest. I am a grammar pedant. A misplaced apostrophe can keep me awake at night. In a sense this is very relevant to lawyers. Understanding language can be critical.

But there is a real problem with the use of my first language in political discussions.

Most of the time, a simple sentence is easily understood by all. If I say –

‘I am going to the Co-Op to buy some coffee’,

there is no need for further elaboration. We know who I am talking about…’I’, we know what I am doing ‘going to the Co-Op’ and we know the purpose of the action ‘to buy some coffee’.

Now a person who speaks a different language will need a translation. So I might follow up the statement to a French person with – ‘Je vais au Co-Op pour acheter du cafĂ©’. The original words require further comment to help the listener understand.

Which brings me to the current debate about the Prime Ministers obviously incorrect statement about Keir Starmer and his time as DPP. During last week’s PMQs he said these words –

"this leader of the opposition, a former Director of Prosecutions. He spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Saville"

That is fairly clear. He was talking about Sir Keir, the person who is indeed leader of the opposition and former Director of Prosecutions’. To clear up any possible confusion he went on to say – “He spent most of his time…” (My emphasis). Most English language users can understand this statement. It does not require further ‘clarification'.

But, because they were said by a political leader who is in trouble, the English words suddenly require a translation. On Monday 7th February Boris Johnson said that he was not intending to comment on the performance of Sir Keir himself but the overall failing of the CPS – even though he had used the words ‘He spent most of his time’. It is as if the words that we all heard and understood require translation into the language of convenience.

Supporters of Mr Johnson have gathered round to muddy the waters even further. On BBC Breakfast today, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Tech and the Digital Economy, denied that the PM needed to apologise but conceded that ‘the comments were capable of being misconstrued’. Isn’t that the same as saying that my words about the Co-Op could be taken to mean a trip to Sainsburys to buy some milk?

Commentators don’t help. They say – ‘The PM has clarified what he meant’. But it was clear in the first place.



It really is confusing. We speak English. We hear words. We know exactly what they mean. But then we are told that in fact they meant something different. It is a bit like studying a Salvador Dali painting as a basis for understanding the construction of clocks.

If the PM genuinely didn’t mean what he said, he should just say sorry. In the meantime we have the grotesque chaos of a leader of the opposition being placed in personal danger by a gang of protesters who heard the clear words that were used and believed them..

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Politician accuses lawyers of 'self-interest' - seriously?

I have never met a lawyer whose motivation came anywhere near self-interest.

It hasn’t taken long for the New Year to usher in the familiar attacks on lawyers from politicians. This is the recent assertion from former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that lawyers who represent victims of medical negligence are obstructing proposed reforms of the system. And that they are doing this out of ‘self-interest.’ I ran clinical negligence cases for 25 years. I have trained firms in the work and provided consultancy support for the last 5 years. I have lost count of the number of cases that I have managed, supervised of helped with. In all this time I have never met a lawyer whose motivation came anywhere near self-interest.

https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/self-interest-of-lawyers-is-blocking-clin-neg-reform-mps-hear/5111104.article

Not only do claimant lawyers want to achieve the best possible outcome for innocent victims, but they are also under a professional duty to do so. Mr. Hunt is referring to a possible no-fault scheme that was mooted in 2021. The proposals are set against the background of other proposed changes which would remove the right of victims to private medical care, a right enjoyed by all victims of injury caused by negligence. I discussed this last year and noted –

“In other words, why should an innocent victim of negligence have to rely on treatment from the state, particularly when the need for that treatment is caused by the state itself? That injustice becomes even greater in cases of clinical negligence. This would lead to the unacceptable situation where victims of NHS negligence would be in a worse position than any other injured person.

https://thestevecornforthblog.blogspot.com/2021/07/re-thnking-clinical-negligence-again.html

There are genuine and fundamental flaws in the proposed ‘reforms’. When the basis of change is costs, you can be sure that the end result will be reduced levels of damages, which are already calculated by reference to a victims’ basic needs for care, often for life. APIL’s Guy Foster explains –

‘Either that is going to cause an astronomical cost that would not be sustainable for the system, or we would have to look at tariffs or tokenistic types of damages which would not be responsive to the needs of injured patients,’

One proposal mooted in the past has been to review the way in which loss of earnings are calculated, so a victim who may never work again receives compensation based on the national average earnings rather than their real earnings. This overlooks the real world in which a person’s mortgage and other living expenses are not based on any ‘national average’.

https://thestevecornforthblog.blogspot.com/2017/06/medical-negligence-striking-massive.html

Lawyers fees are earned

Mr. Hunt uses a familiar tactic of suggesting that much of the money spent by the NHS in clinical negligence cases goes to the lawyers. This overlooks the obvious point that the lawyers’ fees must be earned. They are only paid for the work they do. Securing adequate compensation for a person who suffers a catastrophic injury involves a huge amount of work and can take many years. A lawyer acting for a victim might ultimately receive a large payment from the NHS but it can sometimes take 5 years or more to be resolved, especially where cases are defended until late in the day. In the meantime, the lawyers have incurred the time and cost of running the case.

What sits behind the attacks?

But I think we need, as ever to look at what sits behind attacks on lawyers by politicians on lawyers. The main targets are the victims. They are the ones who need realistic as opposed to ‘tokensistic’ damages. They are the ones who will see levels of compensation reduced.  But it is those victims who will treated differently from those injured at work, in a serious motor accident or in a public place. And for no other reason than that their case is more costly to prove.

It is more palatable to blame those who fight for the victims.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

You'll find us all - doin' the London Walk

 




The walk is important to all of us who are concerned to ensure that nobody is excluded from legal help because they cannot afford it. 

On the 18th October 2021 I am doing the London Legal Walk for the first time! 

In one sense, it has been a long time coming. In 2021, I was a guest at the Westminster and Holborn Law Society Dinner and sat near Bob Nightingale from the London Legal Support Trust. He spent the evening persuading me of the need for a Legal Walk in Liverpool. This year we completed Liverpool Legal Walk number 10. Ever since that time, I have promised myself that I would one day do the London Walk.

This will be the third leg of what I have called my Justice Tour 2021. I have recently done Liverpool and Carlisle. Some may question whether three dates amounts to a tour, but with my aging legs it is plenty. And the London Walk is an event that is not to be missed. As we speak, there are 500 teams that have signed up. That means several thousand walkers who will take one of three different 10k routes around the capital in support of Access to Justice. The walk is important to all of us who are concerned to ensure that nobody is excluded from legal help because they cannot afford it. Lead walkers this year include –

The Lord Chief Justice

The President of the Supreme Court

The Master of the Rolls

The President of the Rolls

Judge Rinder!!

I recently posted a blog about why we are all doing this –

https://thestevecornforthblog.blogspot.com/2021/09/the-justice-tour-2021-and-access-to.html

Lawyers will be turning out in huge numbers to support Law Centres and other agencies who advise and represent those in need. That need has never been greater.

In this short video the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett tells us why he supports the walks  

https://youtu.be/4al2AHyCy0k

The desperate need for legal help was brought home this week in in a report from the Law Society, that millions are deprived of lawyers as ‘vast legal aid deserts’ were revealed –

https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/millions-deprived-of-lawyer-as-vast-legal-aid-deserts-revealed/5109924.article#.YVJID7u23js

We can all do our bit. You can sign up for this or another of the many walks around the country. You can even join my London Walk Team if you like. I am currently a team of one!!

Or you can support one the other 499 teams (!) by visiting their giving page. Here’s mine…

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/JusticeTour2021







 

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Another year another new Lord Chancellor

 


We have yet another new Secretary of State for Justice/Lord Chancellor. I think this is the fifth in five years. That puts this position on a par with Teachers of Defence Against the Dark Arts in Harry Potter who had a similar turnover. Any similarity is entirely down to your imagination…

In the past the question has been … who are they?

Dominic Raab poses no such problem. As the reluctant, outgoing foreign secretary he needs no introduction to most. One thing in his favour is that he does have legal experience unlike some of his predecessors. Although, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg was possibly a little over enthusiastic when she tweeted that he was a “senior lawyer” –


In fact, he was a trainee solicitor at City firm Linklaters where he qualified in 2000, leaving shortly afterwards. He then worked as a lawyer in the Foreign Office until he began working for David Davis in 2006. ‘Worked briefly as a lawyer’ is probably a more accurate statement.

This has not stopped him from expressing alarmingly negative views about the Human Rights Act 1998 –

https://fb.watch/82Z7z9vxQ8/

As Justice Secretary, he will have a big role to play in the Review of the Act. The purpose of the review is as follows -  

“The Government’s Independent Human Rights Act Review Panel was appointed in January 2021 following the Government’s manifesto commitment to “update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.”

I think we can all see where this will end up. 

He won’t find this an easy task. I have written about this before. He will certainly need to read up on his history and the role of the European Convention on Human Rights, that was largely drafted by UK lawyers – presumably senior ones!

https://thestevecornforthblog.blogspot.com/2019/01/european-court-of-human-rights-and.html

I think that there is no doubt that he will give it a go and us pesky, do-gooder, lefty, activist, lawyers should prepare ourselves for a bumpy ride.

He may have had a short-lived career as a solicitor but should still be aware of the oath that he must swear as Lord Chancellor –

I, [NAME], do swear that in the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain I will respect the rule of law, defend the independence of the judiciary and discharge my duty to ensure the provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts for which I am responsible.

Shortly after his appointment he tweeted –

Not a mention of the serious responsibilities of being Lord Chancellor.

I may be wrong but this could herald a challenging time ahead…