“We are eager to build on YLAL’s long history of campaigning success and robust support.”
The past year has brought continued uncertainty with ever-changing rules and restrictions alongside concern for the well-being of our members at the coalface of legal aid. Within that time, the excellent duo of Ciara Bartlam and Crash Wigley thoughtfully led YLAL for six months as interim co-chairs with a focus on reflection on our work and reconnection with our members.
As we pick up the baton from Crash and Ciara, we hope to take on new challenges with our revitalised committee, our dedicated membership and our external partners.
YLAL in 2021
YLAL continued undeterred in the face of changing government rules and, though virtual meetings continued to be our main method of engagement, we successfully addressed many issues that arose during that time. We have also seen the benefits of widening participation to include those who would otherwise struggle to engage with in-person events and are mindful not to lose this as ‘normality’ returns. We responded to numerous government consultations including the Independent Human Rights Act Review
(IHRAR) call for evidence and the Immigration legal aid fees and the online system
consultation, always keeping the welfare of junior legal aid practitioners at the heart of what we do.
Our determined social mobility team, along with the City of London Law Society, BARBRI, and in consultation with the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and the Law Centres Network, launched
the exciting new Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund
. This fund will pay the cost of the BARBRI preparation courses and Solicitors Qualifying Examinations 1 and 2 for 14–16 people who practise in social welfare areas of law and who would otherwise struggle to qualify as solicitors. We hope that this fund will aid sectors that have been crippled by legal aid cuts and underscore the importance of social welfare law and its practitioners.
The YLAL committee has also expanded greatly. Under Ciara’s and Crash’s leadership, we reviewed our own practices and policies relating to diversity and inclusivity, and sought applications from students and practitioners passionate about our core aims. We are now a committee of almost 30 members including a wide range of people such as students, junior lawyers, those working within policy, charity workers and those working in Law Centres. The breadth of experience and perspectives of our committee helps to give a voice to our varying lived experiences, which we all hope will help to fully reflect and promote the interests of our members and the ongoing fight for a sustainable legal aid system.
As we look to the future, YLAL has plans to tackle challenges both old and new. An example of this is our recent series of COVID-19 surveys. With the responses to these surveys, we aim to better understand the continuing impact that lockdowns, work from home and/or mandatory attendance in the office are having on junior practitioners. We also have exciting #YLALVirtuals
coming up throughout the year on a range of topics with engaging, thought-provoking and passionate speakers.
On 14 December 2021, the government opened a consultation on reform of the Human Rights Act 1998
in which there is a concerning assumption that it will be replaced by a Bill of Rights. The proposals go significantly further than the recommendations of the IHRAR. YLAL is concerned by a number of the proposed changes. The potential impact of this review is important to our membership, as well as wider society, and we are aware that it is often junior practitioners who see first-hand the impact that unchecked state power can have on the lives of the vulnerable. YLAL, therefore, intends to respond to this consultation (which closes on 8 March 2022) with the help of our members.
We are also keen to address the reported findings of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid
(29 November 2021) and continue to engage with the ongoing consultation process. Not only do many of our members practise in criminal law, but YLAL is all too aware of the pressure felt by criminal practitioners, especially at the junior end, when faced with drastically reduced fees and longer hours.
YLAL has always sought to educate, to develop and to push for change. In doing so, we hope to encourage as many people as possible to engage with our work and share their insight so that, together, we can promote access to justice across all platforms.
As a chairing team, we have different levels of experience and knowledge from a wide range of practice areas. With this and our expanded committee combined, we hope to harness what YLAL does best and, with support and inspiration coming from our members, we are eager to build on YLAL’s long history of campaigning success and robust support for all young legal aid lawyers.