Authors:Sue James
Last updated:2024-03-28
Editorial: Justice and the power of storytelling
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Stories matter_Pexels_Suzy Hazelwood
There was a flurry of activity on X (formerly Twitter) – and excellent advertising for LAG – when the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, held up a photocopy of the cover of Sir Keir Starmer KC’s European Human Rights Law (published by LAG) in parliament. Brandishing the copy, Sunak said: ‘He’s always been more interested in what lefty lawyers have to say and I’ve even got the textbook he authored for that.’ Sadly, the book is no longer in print, and this sadness was shared on X by barrister Jacob Gifford Head: ‘Incidentally, I still hold it against Keir Starmer that he only produced one edition of this book. I remember it being, like all @LegalActionGrp publications, being clear, practical & helpful.’ Another response, from Housing Law Practitioners Association co-chair Simon Mullings, offered to ‘put a pint or soft drink of choice behind the bar at St Stephens Tavern to the order of the MP who next brandishes a copy of #HousingPossesionDutyDesk in the chamber’. If this were to happen, we would definitely be up for footing the bill (just saying).
It’s been two years since I sat in the Wanstead Tap on a chilly January evening, listening to journalist Nick Wallis talk about his new book, The Great Post Office Scandal. It’s a story that I had been following for a few years and I was eager to go along to the book launch. Growing up in Birmingham, I was acutely aware of the impact that a miscarriage of justice causes, and had followed the Birmingham Six case through university, meeting some of the wives of the men in the Labour Group at Warwick University when they came to talk about the forensic tests being flawed. It was on that night in the Wanstead Tap that the Post Office miscarriage of justice came alive, causing that guttural feeling of outrage at the injustice and inhumanity. The ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office had the same effect on the majority who watched it and reminds us of the power of storytelling to change hearts and minds. The public inquiry of the ‘scandal’ continues and is recommended viewing, and it’s worth following Professor Richard Moorhead’s updates (links to his writing are available on his X feed), where he also sets out possible consequences for the lawyers involved.
We are continuing our Rough Justice series in 2024, in collaboration with Garden Court Chambers, to bring light to some of the many other miscarriages of justice and failings in the criminal justice system. In November 2023, there was standing room only as we heard from Moazzam Begg, Stephen Kamlish KC and Mariam Hussein, the sister of Khobaib Hussain, one of the Birmingham Four. On the day that the four men were convicted in 2017, their solicitor, Gareth Peirce, took the unprecedented step of making a public statement on behalf of their legal team: ‘Jurors can on occasion get things wrong. They have done so in significant cases in the past – nowhere more shockingly than when the allegation has been of involvement by defendants in terrorist activity. We are profoundly concerned that the jury in this case has got it wrong.’
Over the next few months, we will hear from Henry Blaxland KC on the Sam Hallam case on the lack of compensation for miscarriages of justice, and Emily Bolton, founder of APPEAL, will talk about the Andy Malkinson case. LAG’s conference, ‘Scarcity and Fairness in 2024 UK: What does it mean for Access to Justice?’, held in collaboration with the Advice Services Alliance, reframed the way we think about justice. With a diverse range of speakers, including Eldar Shafir, co-author (with Sendhil Mullainathan) of Scarcity: Why Having so little Means so Much, Will Snell from the Fairness Foundation, Sir Ernest Ryder and former Law Society president I Stephanie Boyce. Over lunch we got to walk ‘A Mile my Shoes’ in the Empathy Museum’s exhibition on our shared humanity.
As I write, Karen Buck MP has confirmed that she is to step down at the next general election. She has been an excellent friend to housing, legal aid and the access to justice world more generally. She will be missed. So too will Jan Luba KC, who steps down as a circuit judge at the beginning of April, and John Gallagher, solicitor at Shelter – both titans in housing law. It is hard to imagine the housing world without them. My first LAG housing training was in November 1989 with Jan Luba and Nic Madge (I still have the notes) and they were always my housing law heroes. LAG owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Jan, one of the longest-serving LAG authors – 42 years – who has always shared his knowledge and experience with abundant generosity. Thank you, Jan, John and Karen, for your incredible contributions to housing law.