Society benefits from the ability to ensure our rights are protected and enforced
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Marc Bloomfield
Description: Legal aid
‘I told you I was ill.’ The famous epitaph found on comedian Spike Milligan’s gravestone is quoted in Mike Schwarz’s article on the environmental crisis. He suggests it could be a line spoken by Earth, ‘if the planet itself had a voice’. His article urges us to campaign for action – ‘[s]o much responsibility still rests on governments and businesses to make collective change in the interests of us all that citizens should also campaign and lobby for that agreement and action’ – although he also recognises that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will restrict our freedom to do just that.
The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights believes that some of the clauses in the bill that limit protest go so far as to breach human rights (Haroon Siddique, ‘Curbs on protests in policing bill breach human rights laws, MPs and peers say’, Guardian, 22 June 2021). An open letter to the home secretary and the justice secretary signed by hundreds of concerned individuals and organisations urges the government to urgently rethink its approach:
We write to share our urgent concern over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is soon to be debated in the House of Lords.
This bill will have a profound impact on the right to protest, constitutes a direct threat to Gypsy and Traveller communities and includes a host of expansive policing and sentencing powers that will further entrench racial disparity in the criminal justice system.
The appointment of Dominic Raab as both justice secretary and deputy prime minister has caused many to be concerned for the future of the Human Rights Act 1998 as he inherits the task of reviewing it. On the day of Raab’s appointment, David Lammy tweeted footage of him saying to camera: ‘I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights.’
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC took to writing to Raab with her concerns:
There is an ugly rumour that you have been given this role as the ‘hard nut’ who will get rid of the Human Rights Act and take us out of the European Convention on Human Rights, cobbling together some home-grown protections. With your high-level training on international human rights, I sincerely hope this is not true but one of those alarmist conspiracy theories (‘A letter to the new justice secretary’, Prospect, 17 September 2021).
She concludes her letter by telling him the challenge of restoring the justice system is now his:
One of the roles of the lord chancellor is speaking truth to power. That means holding the home secretary in check. You do law, she does order. They have to be kept in balance.
There is a lot to do to restore confidence in the justice system. We are relying on you.
Michael Gove, who has replaced Robert Jenrick, took the opportunity to rebrand his department the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which I thought was a joke – but it isn’t. I wonder what kind of ‘levelling up’ Gove will be envisaging as his party proceeds with the removal of the £20 universal credit payment to those most in need. Research from the Legatum Institute think-tank warned the prime minister that the change could cause 840,000 people, including 290,000 children, to fall into poverty (‘Research showing impact of universal credit cut – 840,000 more people in poverty’, Legatum Institute, 20 September 2021).
Defending the public purse: the economic value of the free legal advice sector (September 2021), compiled by Pragmatix Advisory working with the Centre for Economic and Business Research on behalf of the Community Justice Fund (CJF), found that organisations supported by the CJF have saved the public purse a substantial amount of money. Its executive summary notes:
organisations supported by the CJF help 483,000 clients a year;
the average net benefit to the Treasury for each client helped is £8,000, while the average cost of advice provision is just £510 per person;
this equates to a net benefit to the public purse of £4bn a year; and
in addition to government savings, the provision of free specialist legal advice by these organisations means that, each year, 235,000 people who would otherwise have been unemployed remain in or gain employment.
The Law Centres movement and the advice sector generally have long known the benefits of legal advice. It is good to have them documented so clearly. I’m excited to be part of a steering group that is setting up a Law Centre in North Wales, outlined by group member Crash Wigley in this issue. It will be the first in the north – and an opportunity to make real change there for those most in need. Access to justice changes lives; it also saves money. However, the whole of the justice system needs investment – it is on its last legs and without funding will collapse completely. To return to Spike Milligan’s epitaph: ‘I told you I was ill.’

About the author(s)

Description: Sue James
Sue James is CEO of LAG. She was previously director and housing solicitor at Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre and a founding trustee at Ealing Law...