Tag Archive | "Citizens Advice"

LASPO Review


At last the Ministry of Justice has announced that the government has set the ball rolling on the long-awaited review of its controversial legal aid reforms.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), which came into force in April 2013, made savage cuts to the scope of legal aid. Civil legal aid became no longer available for cases involving divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education.

At this week’s all-party parliamentary group meeting on legal aid, the justice minister Sir Oliver Heald QC, set out the government’s timetable for the review. A post-legislative memorandum on LASPO will be sent to the justice select committee before May, ahead of a full post-implementation review of the Act to be conducted by April 2018.

Sir Oliver said the government intended to work closely with the sector’s stakeholders over the course of the full post-implementation review in order to inform its conclusions. “We intend to outline our plans in more detail about a review when we present the memorandum to parliament. What we envisage is that the memorandum and review will provide us with a robust evidence-based picture of the current legal aid landscape and how it has changed since LASPO.”

Heald said that the ministry plans to submit a post-legislative memorandum on LASPO ‘as a whole’ to the justice select committee. This process has to be done by May but he said the ministry hopes to do it before then. He added that the memorandum will cover the whole act, including part one. “It will look at how the Act has been affected by litigation, how it was implemented, and will consider the various reviews of legal aid that have taken place since LASPO, by bodies such as the National Audit Office and others,” said Sir Oliver. “This will lead to an initial assessment of the extent to which changes to legal aid met their objectives, which is the test for a post-legislative memorandum.”

He added: “We intend to outline our plans in more detail about a review when we present the memorandum to parliament. What we envisage is that the memorandum and review will provide us with a robust evidence-based picture of the current legal aid landscape and how it has changed since LASPO.” Heald said the government intends to work ‘closely and collaboratively’ with other parties. It will outline more detailed plans about the review when it presents the memorandum to parliament.

Cuts to legal aid have left many without access to justice. One of the effects of reduced legal aid is the rise in the number of litigants in person, which has caused an increase in court delays. The number of people going to court without a lawyer has been rising since access to legal aid was cut. The less well off and those with children are more heavily represented in those litigating in person than any other group. Reductions in legal advice services raise grave concerns about the creation of “advice deserts” and vulnerable people unable to get the advice they desperately need.

Research by the charity Citizens Advice has revealed that the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean ‘Litigants in person’ (LiPS) achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts.

It also showed 90% of people who had been LiPS found the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work or finances. Figures from the MoJ in October 2016 reveal that in 80% of family court cases, at least one individual had no lawyer.

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Family courts allow abusers to torment their victims


The head of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has called for a bar on victims of domestic violence being cross-examined by the alleged perpetrators in court. The practice is not permitted in criminal courts. He said: “Reform is required. I would welcome a bar. But the judiciary cannot provide this, because it requires primary legislation and would involve public expenditure. It is therefore a matter for ministers.”

Liz Truss, the justice secretary, is said to share his concerns about how the family courts can enable perpetrators of domestic abuse to continue their intimidation and harassment through the court system. A senior Ministry of Justice source said: “This is a matter we are extremely concerned about and looking at as a matter of urgency.”

Comprehensive evidence obtained by the ‘Guardian’ has revealed how the family court allows men with criminal convictions for abusing their ex-partners to directly question them; is able to ignore restraining orders imposed by the criminal courts to protect the women; and allows fathers, no matter how violent or abusive, to repeatedly pursue contact with children and their mothers. The evidence also shows that the family court can ignore expert evidence that women are at risk from abusive men and fails to adequately protect vulnerable victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Women are often cross-examined by violent ex-partners in secretive civil court hearings. Those who speak out risk being held in contempt of court for discussing what went on in their private court hearings, but said they wanted to shine a light on what was going on in the system.

The immediate problem is another of Chris Grayling’s chickens coming home to roost. To satisfy the austerity demands of George Osborne (remember him?) Grayling took the axe to his department’s budget. Legal aid is now denied in most family cases. The main exception is for a victim of domestic abuse. Cuts of more than 30% are crippling access to all sorts of justice.

The number of people going to court without a lawyer has been rising since access to legal aid was cut severely in 2013. The less well off and those with children are more heavily represented in those litigating in person than any other group.

Research by the charity Citizens Advice has revealed that the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean ‘Litigants in person’ (LiPS) achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts.

It also showed 90% of people who had been LiPS found the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work or finances. Figures from the MoJ in October 2016 reveal that in 80% of family court cases, at least one individual had no lawyer.

The justice secretary has set up an emergency review to find the quickest way to ban perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross-examining their victims within the family court system. The research paper being prepared is due to be completed by the end of next week. It will examine whether primary legislation is necessary to end perpetrator cross-examination, or whether it could be stopped through the provision of more legal aid.

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

Uber loses landmark tribunal decision


According to Wikipedia, Uber Technologies Inc. is an American worldwide online transportation network company based in San Francisco. It develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile “app”, which allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request, which the software program then automatically sends to the Uber driver nearest to the consumer, alerting the driver to the location of the customer. Uber drivers use their own personal cars.

But Uber may now have to grant its drivers basic employment rights, such as the national minimum wage and holiday pay, after it lost a London tribunal case last week over the treatment of its drivers. The employment implications of this decision could range far beyond Uber.

The case was brought by the GMB trade union following claims that Uber had disregarded its drivers’ basic employment rights. The ruling by the London employment tribunal concerned two drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, on behalf of a group of 19 Uber workers who argued that they were employed by the San Francisco-based firm, rather than working for themselves.

The legal action alleged that Uber failed to ensure its drivers were paid the minimum wage or that they received the minimum amount of paid holiday. The company has always maintained that its drivers are self-employed contractors rather than permanent employees, which means they are entitled to different benefits.

The tribunal was not impressed by Uber’s arguments. “The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous. Drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers … They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.”

Nigel Mackay from the employment team at law firm Leigh Day, which represented the drivers, said: “This is a ground-breaking decision. It will impact not just on the thousands of Uber drivers working in this country, but on all workers in the so-called gig economy whose employers wrongly classify them as self-employed and deny them the rights to which they are entitled.”

Other firms with large self-employed workforces could now face scrutiny of their working practices. The UK’s biggest union, Unite, announced it was setting up a new unit to pursue cases of bogus self-employment. Citizens Advice has suggested that as many as 460,000 people could be falsely classified as self-employed, costing up to £314m a year in lost tax and employer national insurance contributions.

The Uber ruling could also force a rethink of the gig economy business model, where companies use apps and the internet to match customers with workers. The firms do not employ the workers, but take commission from their earnings, and many have become huge global enterprises. Uber now operates around the world, with the company valued at more than £50bn.

Uber will take the case to the employment appeal tribunal, and following its decision there could be further hearings in the court of appeal and then the supreme court. It has been suggested that the tribunal decision will only apply to the two named claimants, one of whom has since left Uber, and not the whole workforce.

Jo Bertram, the regional general manager of Uber in the UK, said many of the firm’s drivers did not want to be classified as workers. “The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want,” she said.

The tribunal judgement in full can be found at:
https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/aslam-and-farrar-v-uber-reasons-20161028.pdf

Posted in Law UpdatesComments (0)

The impact of legal aid cuts


The number of people going to court without a lawyer has been rising since access to legal aid was cut severely in 2013. The less well off and those with children are more heavily represented in those litigating in person than any other group.

Research by the charity Citizens Advice has revealed that the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean “litigants in person (LiPS) achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts.”

It also showed 90% of people who had been LiPS found the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work or finances. Some lost their jobs due to the pressure, while others got into debt due to court issues, including paying for photocopying and travelling to and from court.

Meanwhile, seven in 10 reported they might ‘think twice’ about taking a case to court themselves if they could not afford a lawyer.

The charity said it was only after people had been through the process of going to the family court that they realised the value of having a lawyer, with 70% saying that instructing a professional would have benefited their court experience. The lack of professional support has also placed intolerable pressure on the court system.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “For people representing themselves in the family courts, whether in a divorce case or to keep the legal right to see their children, the workload to prepare can be unmanageable. In extreme cases people are quitting their job so they have the time to do research before going to court.

“The stress of making your case against qualified barristers and navigating complex court processes without the right guidance can make existing mental and physical health problems worse.”

In January the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, delivered a warning about the legal aid situation in England and Wales. “Our system of justice has become unaffordable to most,” he said. “In consequence, there has been a considerable increase of litigants in person for whom our current court system is not really designed.”

Three years after the government scrapped legal aid across much of civil law, more ‘advice deserts’ are emerging in the sectors that remain in scope. Several parts of England and Wales now have inadequate housing law cover which could give rise to potential conflicts of interest. A number of areas have no cover at all.

According to the ‘Gazette’ the Law Centres Network said: “Parliament’s intention in LASPO was that the most vulnerable people should still be able to access legal assistance. As evictions and homelessness rise steadily, a decline in housing legal aid uptake suggests that need is not being met.”

From the usual spokesperson for the Legal Aid Agency we learn that the ’vast majority’ of England and Wales have access to LAA-funded housing advice. “We constantly monitor the situation across the country and we are actively seeking new providers in two areas,” the spokesperson said. “Legal aid is a vital part of our justice system but we must ensure it is sustainable and fair for those who need it, those who provide services and for the taxpayer, who pays for it.”

Posted in Civil Law, Civil Liberties, Legal AidComments (0)


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