Access to UK Justice means Stopping Legal Aid ‘Reform’

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Save UK justice by laughing at the proposals to reform legal aid.
and sign the petition here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petit…

Transforming Legal Aid – Published on May 26, 2013

Think Left wrote in Cameron attacks our hard-won ‘Right to Challenge’:

 The rule of law is inherent in democracy whatever the level of governance or public authorities – national or local – as this concept addresses the exercise of power as such and the relationship between the individual and the state, which is a starting point for building any democratic system…..

At the time of the legal aid bill’s final reading, there was comparatively little reporting or discussion, given the magnitude of its implications.  Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said of the government’s legal aid bill (LASPO) when it was passed:

“This is a dark day for justice in the UK, and internationally. The government has placed legal remedy beyond the reach of human rights victims and slammed the doors of the UK courts shut on them.
“These changes are an open invitation to huge multinationals to operate with impunity around the world, as they can be confident they won’t be challenged or held to account in a UK court.”(5) 

However, attempts by the House of Lords, to mitigate the impact of the ministers’ plans to cut legal aid in England and Wales, were overturned by the Tory/LD MPs when the legislation was returned to the House of Commons.  The Lord’s amendments would have protected children, domestic violence victims and disabled people from the worst of the legal aid cuts.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said “To cut legal aid at a time of unprecedented changes to welfare support would mean disabled people who fall foul of poor decision-making, red tape or administrative error being pushed even further into poverty as they struggle to manoeuvre the complicated legal system without the necessary expert support they need.”

The parent of a 48-year-old daughter with learning difficulties and other health issues, summed up the situation ‘Legal aid bill ‘puts most vulnerable at risk’:

“It is, sadly, getting worse by the day. However, it is not the result of a genuine error, or rushed policy-making, but of a deliberate and callous plan.

The coalition knew full well that its planned attack on the benefits of the disabled and the weak would lead to a huge rise in challenges, supported by legal aid. It was also well aware that the cuts were going to be so callous that 90% of those affected who secured legal representation would win their cases and have their benefits reinstated. So the link between the introduction of the benefits cuts and legal aid cuts was deliberate, and it started from the first day that David Cameron arrived in Downing Street.

In the short period of time since then, people with serious disabilities have gone from being “poor dears” to “scrounging bastards”. The rightwing press has helped in the preparation for the cuts in legal aid and the increasing attacks on the wellbeing of vulnerable people. Here in Barnet, Tory councillors are planning to make a profit from disabled services – and the only way they can make that profit is by destroying or cutting back to the bone their support services.

The attack on benefit claimants by this coalition government, along with the junta-style assessment panel, is for one purpose only, and that is to save money, no matter the human cost.

John Sullivan
Edgware, Middlesex (6)

 

…. With their proposals to limit judicial reviews, the government has followed its usual pattern of devising legislation without reference to those experts in the field.  In this instance, without taking advice from lawyers, hence their ‘fury and bewilderment’.  But this was also the case, with the Health and Social Care bill, the Welfare Reform bill and the perpetual changes wrought by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove…..

… The overall strategy seems to be to cut the ‘provision’ and then make a legal appeal almost impossible by increasing its cost, removing legal aid, reducing the time frame and if possible removing the decision from the courts altogether…

Save UK Justice – Sign the e-petition here

The MOJ should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice.

No World Cup without Workers’ rights – Quatar 2022

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Today is International Commemoration Day for Dead and Injured Workers

In 2010, FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar – a country with few protections for migrant workers who face injury and death every day.

FIFA and Qatar have both pledged reform, but their record is full of broken promises.

Save lives, restore the game’s integrity and the trust of fans: tell FIFA to choose a World Cup venue where workers’ rights are respected.

share graphic_final_EN

 

Qatar has registered a record number of injuries from falls by construction site workers despite pressure on the Gulf nation to improve safety as it pushes ahead with a 150 US billion dollar construction programme ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

“They are reckoning that more than 1,000 workers were injured in falls last year; that’s very serious,” says Fiona Murie, Occupational Safety and Health Director of the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI).

“The problem in Qatar is that the workers don’t have rights to be involved in any prevention measures, they don’t have training, they don’t have the equipment,” she said from the global union federation headquarters in Switzerland.

Official data on injuries suffered by the migrant labourers toiling on Qatar’s construction sites is hard to find, but a doctor in the trauma centre of one of the country’s leading hospitals has said the number of workers treated for falls is up over 1,000 a year compared to an average of 600 in 2008.

“Companies should take more interest in the safety of their workers,” Dr Ahmad Zarour, Director of Trauma Critical Care at the Hamad General Hospital, told the Qatari newspaper The Peninsula recently.

“The authorities must be strict on rules and regulations to force these companies to take all safety measures and make it obligatory at all construction sites.”

Dr Zarour told the paper that ten per cent of those injured in falls are facing permanent disability.

When contacted by Equal Times, Dr Zarour declined to comment further without consultation with the hospital authorities.

Mounting concern

As Qatar steps up its massive pre-World Cup construction program, there is mounting concern about the safety of the mainly Asian migrant workers who make up the vast bulk of the workforce on the country’s building sites.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), has called Qatar a “21st-century slave state” and warned that without improvements “more labourers will die during construction than the footballers who will step on the pitch.”

The trade union movement has been playing a leading role in raising awareness of the plight of migrants in Qatar, lobbying Qatari authorities, football’s governing body FIFA and companies seeking contracts to build World Cup infrastructure.

Migrant workers make up 99 per cent of the private sector workforce in Qatar.

Often they are underpaid and poorly housed, obliged to work long hours in blistering heat, and denied basic rights to change jobs or protest their conditions. Many have their passports confiscated or are tricked into abusive contracts from which they cannot escape. Trade unions are not allowed.

Hundreds of thousands of extra workers are expected to pour into the country to build the stadia, roads, hotels and other infrastructure planned for the 2022 World Cup, increasing concerns about construction site safety.

The increased international spotlight on Qatar in the run to the World Cup has given the labour movement leverage to press for improvements.

Murie said BWI and the ITUC have been seeking to secure a broad charter on workers’ rights in Qatar that would include health and safety standards.

They are working with international development banks and private construction companies to ensure that labourers’ rights are written into contracts for building projects.

“The big international contractors that will be working there and are already working there have got a very serious reputational risk that they are aware of, and they don’t want to be in a situation where there are going to be people killed,” she said.

Injuries

Qatar’s rate of five fatal work injuries per 100,000 employees is eight times higher than the level in the United Kingdom, and well above the US rate of 3.5 per 100,000 according the website Qatar Under Construction which monitors safety issue in the construction industry.

In the past three years, at least 44 Indian workers have died from falls and other construction accidents, according to local media reports quoted by the site.

In 2010, work accidents killed 19 Nepali workers according embassy data cited in a Human Rights Watch report last year. Dozens more died from heart attacks blamed on working conditions.

Workers complain that building sites lack proper safety equipment, that there is insufficient safety training or that instructions and warnings are often available only in English or Arabic which many migrants do not understand.

Facing growing international scrutiny, the Qatari authorities have promised tighter safety rules and are discussing a special code to guarantee conditions for workers employed on World Cup projects.

But campaigners are concerned that without proper monitoring and enforcement such codes would be toothless.

“Qatar’s rulers asserted in 2010 that the country’s successful bid for the World Cup could inspire positive change and leave a huge legacy for the region, but the past two years have seen an absence of reform,” Jan Egeland, Europe Director at Human Rights Watch told a news conference in Doha this month.

“If this persists, the tournament threatens to turn Qatar into a crucible of exploitation and misery for the workers who will build it.”

This news was first published by Equal Times on 27 February 2013

Bhupendra is a father who lives and works in Qatar. A few months ago, a tragic work injury changed his life forever.

Sadly Bhupendra’s story is all too common for more than one million migrant World Cup workers.

We can’t stand by while greed continues to take more limbs and lives. It’s time to demand an end to Qatar’s dangerous and deadly work conditions.

Bhupendra has been brave enough to speak out and fight, but he can’t do it alone. What better way to honor the memories of those we’ve lost, than by standing up and joining him in the fight?

Just visit RerunTheVote.org to get started:

www.RerunTheVote.org

Cameron attacks our hard-won ‘Right to Challenge’

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The rule of law is inherent in democracy whatever the level of governance or public authorities – national or local – as this concept addresses the exercise of power as such and the relationship between the individual and the state, which is a starting point for building any democratic system.

In an extraordinary speech to the CBI conference, David Cameron launched the next phase of the Tory/LD government’s attack on the legal protections afforded to ordinary people … and hence another Tory-led attack on democracy.

Invoking Hitler and the war-time spirit, Cameron announced plans to curb judicial reviews … plans which the Law Gazette reports as creating fury and bewilderment amongst lawyers (1).  These new proposals follow on from the constant calls for the European Convention on Human Rights to be substantially rewritten  and the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) which received Royal Assent in May 2012.

A judicial review – review by a court of law of actions of a government official or entity or of some other legally appointed person or body or the review by an appellate court of the decision of a trial court.

Opponents of government decisions and policies would be given less time to apply for judicial review, face higher fees and see the chances to appeal halved.  Also announced was the suspension of Equality Impact Assessments, on the basis that they will cut the number and length of public consultations.  David Cameron justified the proposals on the basis that applications in ‘hopeless cases’ were hindering infrastructure investments and economic growth.

However, lawyers variously described the proposals as ‘a peculiar target’ in the quest for better economic competitiveness; ‘the dark suggestion that the suspension of normal legal process is acceptable’; and ‘a myth’ that judicial review is stopping the government from proceeding with policies to help boost the economy.

Meanwhile, the Public and Commercial Services Union did not mince their words when they accused the UK government of wanting to use these proposals to silence critics over spending cuts (2)  The PCS were not side-lined into believing that these proposals were aimed solely, or even mainly, at planning consent.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “Against the backdrop of the threat of a triple dip recession, this is a clear attempt to restrict ordinary people’s rights to question and challenge this Tory-led government’s unfair and damaging cuts that so obviously are not working. (2)

Nevertheless, speaking about the obvious environmental concerns, The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) points out that’ judicial reviews “are the only means for community groups to challenge decisions to grant planning permission” and that judicial review costs “are already far too excessive for environmental groups to be able to use judicial review to address environmental wrongs”.

Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive said: “Judicial review is a vital safeguard against poor quality decision-making.  It helps prevent the sort of developments that degrade the environment and, in the long run, undermine the economy. If David Cameron really wants to reduce the use of judicial review, he should try to improve the quality of legislation. For instance, the Growth and Infrastructure Bill now going through Parliament has not benefited from a white paper or from pre-legislative scrutiny. The government is making it up as it goes along.  If passed, decisions based on it are almost certain to end up in the courts.  We need good quality development and we need public consent for new infrastructure.  Panicky announcements of this sort, designed to undermine the credibility of the planning system, will not help us get either.” (3)

(emphasis added)

Martin Tett, leader of Bucks County Council and chairman of the 51m group,the18 councils fighting the HS2 plans, also undermines the government’s case:

“The vast majority of judicial reviews are not about major infrastructure projects but rather relate to immigration and asylum cases…..For local people a judicial reviews may be the only way for local people or businesses to prevent public bodies acting illegally….The recent example of the legal challenge by Virgin Rail to the West Coast Main Line franchise process exposed fundamental flaws in the procedures adopted by the Department for Transport in awarding that and other franchises….Major changes have been made for the public good as a result.”(3)

The Coalition for Access to Justice for the Environment, an umbrella group that includes WWF-UK, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the RSPB (CAJE) condemned the move, warning that it could “destabilise democracy and undercut the UK’s obligations on public participation and access to environmental justice under EU and International environmental law”. (3)

The CAJE says the UK has already breached EU and international law because of the high costs of legal action for environmental cases and is due to appear before the European Court on this point early in 2013. It warns that moves to reduce the opportunities to appeal against a decision to refuse an application for JR could also “endanger compliance with EU law”.  Furthermore, reducing the time limit within which people can bring challenges is “unrealistic” and could require changes to primary legislation.

Carol Day, WWF solicitor, said: “These proposals are hastily thought-through and seriously misguided. Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins said:
 
“The planning system … mustn’t become a scapegoat for the government’s economic failings.”

This is all of a piece with other far-reaching government moves to curtail the rights of individuals.  Michael Meacher MP writes:

… there is a host of other, little-noted,  changes in this week’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which will severely curtail workers’ rights.   The cap for compensation in unfair dismissal cases is being significantly lowered.   There is much reduced protection for workplace whistleblowers, which will allow more abuses at work to go unreported…. The government is introducing regulations requiring claimants to provide prescribed information when using ACAS conciliation services… a deliberately nitpicking hurdle inserted, as in the notorious pre-strike procedure, to enable judges to abort action on a technicality…. Whistle-blowing claims will only be successful in future if the worker believed that the disclosure was made in the public interest and can demonstrate it was reasonable for him to believe that.   One effect of that will be that it will limit the protection for workers who raise concerns about health and safety issues.   The regulations will also in future allow a judge who has (subjectively) decided that a claim has little reasonable prospect of success to require a deposit of £1,000 to be laid before the claim can proceed.   This will make it much harder (as was of course intended) for some claims to proceed even when in the event they would have won through. (4)

At the time of the legal aid bill’s final reading, there was comparatively little reporting or discussion, given the magnitude of its implications.  Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said of the government’s legal aid bill (LASPO) when it was passed:

“This is a dark day for justice in the UK, and internationally. The government has placed legal remedy beyond the reach of human rights victims and slammed the doors of the UK courts shut on them.
“These changes are an open invitation to huge multinationals to operate with impunity around the world, as they can be confident they won’t be challenged or held to account in a UK court.”(5) 

However, attempts by the House of Lords, to mitigate the impact of the ministers’ plans to cut legal aid in England and Wales, were overturned by the Tory/LD MPs when the legislation was returned to the House of Commons.  The Lord’s amendments would have protected children, domestic violence victims and disabled people from the worst of the legal aid cuts.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said “To cut legal aid at a time of unprecedented changes to welfare support would mean disabled people who fall foul of poor decision-making, red tape or administrative error being pushed even further into poverty as they struggle to manoeuvre the complicated legal system without the necessary expert support they need.”

The parent of a 48-year-old daughter with learning difficulties and other health issues, summed up the situation ‘Legal aid bill ‘puts most vulnerable at risk’:

“It is, sadly, getting worse by the day. However, it is not the result of a genuine error, or rushed policy-making, but of a deliberate and callous plan.

The coalition knew full well that its planned attack on the benefits of the disabled and the weak would lead to a huge rise in challenges, supported by legal aid. It was also well aware that the cuts were going to be so callous that 90% of those affected who secured legal representation would win their cases and have their benefits reinstated. So the link between the introduction of the benefits cuts and legal aid cuts was deliberate, and it started from the first day that David Cameron arrived in Downing Street.

In the short period of time since then, people with serious disabilities have gone from being “poor dears” to “scrounging bastards”. The rightwing press has helped in the preparation for the cuts in legal aid and the increasing attacks on the wellbeing of vulnerable people. Here in Barnet, Tory councillors are planning to make a profit from disabled services – and the only way they can make that profit is by destroying or cutting back to the bone their support services.

The attack on benefit claimants by this coalition government, along with the junta-style assessment panel, is for one purpose only, and that is to save money, no matter the human cost.

John Sullivan
Edgware, Middlesex (6)

 

Polly Toynbee reports another quiet change to the law – that protecting homeless families, Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012.

The change allows a local housing authority to discharge its duty by offering the applicant a suitable property let on an assured shorthold tenancy from a private landlord. Unlike the current position, where an applicant can refuse an assured shorthold without losing his or her entitlement, refusal of this offer will now bring the duty to an end.(7)

 

All a council need do is find a private landlord anywhere with a one-year lease, and wash their hands of them thereafter. Families can be housed anywhere with an “affordable” rent, hundreds of miles away in districts where rents are cheap because jobs are non-existent. Wrench children out of schools, parents from their jobs, take families away from where they lived for generations without the means to pay train fares for visits home – all this breaks the social contract on housing. So do the deep cuts in housing benefit: this week, regulations were laid that will set off a catastrophic and chaotic exodus in April. There is no legal definition of an “affordable” rent, but most people might presume it should never eat into the absolute minimum the state provides to keep a family alive. Yet, even after families are exported, many of these “affordable” rents will leave them with virtually no money to live on. One estimate finds only Middlesbrough has rents low enough for a family with four children to pay up and still keep the sum unemployment benefits are supposed to provide for bare survival. (8)

 

As Polly Toynbee writes: ‘Britain keeps plunging further back in time as yet another plank of the welfare state is removed.’

With their proposals to limit judicial reviews, the government has followed its usual pattern of devising legislation without reference to those experts in the field.  In this instance, without taking advice from lawyers, hence their ‘fury and bewilderment’.  But this was also the case, with the Health and Social Care bill, the Welfare Reform bill and the perpetual changes wrought by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Furthermore, just as George Osborne’s austerity measures were/are contingent on the population being persuaded that the global banking crisis was in fact the result of government overspending, Cameron invites us to believe that ‘planning red tape holding back economic growth’ is the rationale for the draconian proposals limiting access to judicial review.  Under this guise, they hope that these measures will be quietly slipped past the mainstream media.

The overall strategy seems to be to cut the ‘provision’ and then make a legal appeal almost impossible by increasing its cost, removing legal aid, reducing the time frame and if possible removing the decision from the courts altogether.

This dismantling of the judicial review process is yet further example of the disregard with which this Tory/LD government treats the democratic process and the protection of UK citizens.  It appears that the Tories act solely on behalf of finance and corporations.  The evidence all suggests that their ultimate aim is to create a low-waged economy with minimal protection or benefits – a UK workforce that will be on a par with, and presumably as profitable for the super-rich as are, the BRIC countries such as India and China.

Far from being about ‘speeding up planning consent’, the curbs on judicial review will impact on every aspect of the relationship between the individual and the state – from disability benefits to the environment; from safety at work to the dismantling of the NHS; from asylum seekers to homeless families.  These changes must be opposed.

(1) Fury and bewilderment at plans to curb judicial reviews

(2)  UK govt. accused of silencing critics over cuts

(3) http://planningblog.planningresource.co.uk/2012/11/20/reaction-to-camerons-red-tape-cutting-proposals/#more-6737

(4)  http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2012/10/government-attack-on-job-rights-goes-far-wider-than-beecroft/#more-4403

(5)  http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=20025

(6)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/apr/19/cuts-services-legal-aid-linked

(7)  http://laghousinglaw.com/2012/11/02/homelessness-changes/

(8)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/22/2013-boom-year-bailiffs-slum-landlords