Authors:Sue James
Last updated:2023-09-18
Remembering Andrew Phillips, co-founder and fierce supporter of LAG
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Andrew Phillips at LAG 50th anniversary
Description: Andrew Phillips at LAG 50th anniversary full length photo
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Andrew Phillips, Lord Phillips of Sudbury OBE, one of the founders of LAG. I had the pleasure of interviewing him in 2017 along with a fellow co-founder, Simon Hillyard, and LAG’s first director, Susan Marsden-Smedley, as it celebrated its 45th anniversary. The meeting was inspiring and motivational, and may just be the reason why I now find myself as LAG’s CEO after 30 years on the frontline of legal advice. Andrew opened so many doors to the future for so many people and so many organisations.
Before LAG was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, Andrew wrote a letter to The Law Society complaining about the ‘shambolic state of legal aid’ and sounding a call for action. He arranged a meeting of like-minded lawyers, not expecting many to turn up, but when 70 people arrived – ‘all of them concerned about the same issue: legal aid and access to justice’ – he had to borrow a room from the lawyers upstairs.
I asked Andrew what prompted the letter. He told me it started from a discussion among colleagues one evening after a Society of Labour Lawyers meeting. Without the contemporary digital means to connect, it was decided to start The Bulletin, which served the purpose of both educating lawyers and advisers and a means to communicate. The Bulletin turned into the LAG Bulletin before becoming Legal Action magazine.
One of the questions I asked Andrew when we met in 2017 was why the name Legal Action Group – how was that decided? He told me they ‘wanted a name that would stand the test of time and evolution. We had open minds, and we didn’t want to box ourselves in, or restrict the scope of what we were about, because it wasn’t clear how life would evolve.’
Andrew remained on the LAG committee, as it was known then, until 1981. The editorial from April 1981 records his influence on LAG’s development: ‘He did much of the difficult and time-consuming work involved in setting up LAG – with flair, energy and enthusiasm.’ Although his time on the committee ceased in 1981, Andrew remained a fierce supporter of LAG and we were delighted when he agreed to be the keynote speaker at our 50th anniversary event in February 2022. It was clear when he spoke that the passion and commitment to social justice, as well as his ‘flair, energy and enthusiasm’, were very much still present.
If Andrew thought that the state of legal aid was shambolic in 1971 then it’s hard to think of any suitable words that could describe it now. To mark 10 years of the coming into force of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), we held an event in Westminster – ‘Legal aid: fighting for the future’. We didn’t want 1 April 2023 to pass without bearing witness to the devastating effect on social justice that LASPO has had. We heard from frontline organisations across England and Wales which are experiencing the trauma of seeing people unable to access legal help. Rosaleen Kilbane of the Community Law Partnership in Birmingham told the audience that the partners take it in turns to decide on the cases that they have the capacity to take on and the rest are turned away. ‘It’s heartbreaking,’ she said. For a full write-up of the event see Jon Robins’ report at page 12.
Legal aid doesn’t stand alone; it is inextricably linked to the fundamental rights citizens have in society. Without legal aid, access to justice is a hollow concept. LAG will continue to fight for legal aid so that those without the means can enforce their legal rights. We owe it to Andrew and LAG’s other co-founders – Simon and the much-missed Cyril Glasser and Richard White – to do so.
Photo: Richard Gray/rugfoot photography