The Right To Justice.

‘Right to justice’, the final report of the Bach Commission is out today.

People should have a right to justice they can afford, urges a new report on access to the justice system.

The Fabian Society was secretariat for the Bach Commission which has heard from more than 100 individuals and organisations over the past two years. The commission found that cuts to legal aid created a two-tier justice system where the poorest go without representation or advice.

In its final report, published today, the commission calls on the government and other political parties to ensure minimum standards on access to justice are upheld through a new Right to Justice Act.

The proposed Right to Justice Act would:

  • Codify our existing rights to justice and establish a new right for individuals to receive reasonable legal assistance without costs they cannot afford
  • Establish a set of principles that guide interpretation of this new right
  • Establish a new body called the Justice Commission to monitor and enforce this new right

The commission also sets out an immediate action plan for the government to: widen the scope of legal aid, with a focus on early legal help; reform the eligibility requirements for legal aid; replace the Legal Aid Agency with an independent body; and improve the public’s understanding of the law.

To read the appendices to the report and see the written evidence the commission has received, please click here.

Detailed commentary can also be found via the Grauniad, Independent , The Law Society Gazette and the Solicitors Journal.

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The Budget 2017 – all you can eat.

For the first time in many years the Budget did not significantly change the landscape of welfare reform. That isn’t to say that significant changes aren’t already on the horizon and April 2017 will see the end of payment for being in the work-related activity group put large numbers of people into significant debt and at high risk of homelessness.

If, by any chance, you missed the key budget announcements then the links below should soon put you right.

The live TV feed was at http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/8a000060-1bde-4491-bffe-4359e85832ea

Summaries and analysis can also be found at The Guardian and if that doesn’t float your boat then there’s also the BBC summaries.

GMWRAG being a little dim.

GMWRAG has always thought the evidence in favour of oral social security hearings was overwhelming, especially when compared to paper hearings. Putting aside the Guardian “discussion”, and a similar piece from our own GM Law Centre check out this paper from UKAJI. At the present time an awful lot of people are showing an interest in the governments proposals for online dispute resolution.

We suggest GMWRAG members start with the Rightsnet thread and then have a read of the above so you are up to speed with what is proposed and the debates around it. This could well shape what a WRO looks like for years to come and so it’s important we all know what’s at stake and all have our say.

Local showing of “I, Daniel Blake”.

GMWRAG members will doubtless be familiar with the excellent and tireless work of Charlotte Hughes. Those of you who aren’t should check out her blog “The poor side of life”.

On Friday the 20th of January 2017 Charlotte has organised a one off showing of “I, Daniel Blake”. If GMWRAG has members who don’t know of Charlotte and don’t know of the film then we will find some way of rescinding your membership in due course 🙂

Suffice to say this is a free to view screening of the award winning Ken Loach film. With exceptional writing by Paul Laverty, and equally impressive acting by Dave Johns and Hayley Squires it shows the harsh reality of having to live whilst caught up in the cruel and complicated benefit system. That bloke has come a long way since GMWRAG first spotted him at the Buzz Club in Chorlton.

You will cry, so bring a tissue, and you will never forget watching this film.

We will also be showing the film that we made with The Guardian to go alongside this magnificent film. You might recognise some faces. This is also a powerful film.

Donation on the door if you can afford it. All donations going to fund food parcels that are handed out each week.

The performance will be from 7:30pm to approximately 10:30pm and will take place at Broadoak Community Centre, Broadoak Road, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 8RS.

Whilst the performance is free you will need to register in order to attend and you can do this via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/i-daniel-blake-film-screening-tickets-30812516065?aff=efbevent.

Read the reviews at IMDb but if you’re not yet convinced then by all means watch the trailer below. Excellent Rightsnet discussion can also be found here.

URGENT: Dangerous times for social security appeal tribunal users – online consultation now live. Radical change ahoy.

The rather bland title chosen by the Ministry of Justice – “Transforming our courts and tribunals: consultation” – hides some serious issues for all tribunal users. We’ve known these have been brewing for some time but now they’re coming to the boil and it’s important all GMWRAG members are aware of this and respond quickly, clearly and robustly to what appears to be an online only consultation. “Transformation” is of course a word which will strike fear into the hearts of most local authority welfare rights workers and there appears to be no reason to fear it any less in this context.

The MoJ blandly state

“The justice system in England and Wales is internationally revered as one of the finest in the world; our strong and independent judiciary, world-class legal profession and adherence to the rule of law are the basis of a civilized society and strong economy. The Government is investing over £700m in the courts and tribunals and more than £270m in the criminal justice system, a sign of our commitment to building on our strengths and maintaining our international reputation. The world is moving on and our justice system must keep up to meet the changing needs and expectations of everyone who uses our courts and tribunals.

This document outlines what the Ministry of Justice is doing to achieve reform of the justice system, and invites the public and interested stakeholders to give their views on certain specific measures. Where required, we will bring forward legislation in due course.”

This of course begs the question as to what the “changing needs and expectations of everyone who uses our courts and tribunals” might be and how they have been measured thusfar? As a representative, have you been asked? Have any of your appellants been asked? Thought not.

You can find more where that came from and a link to the online survey itself at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals

Note especially the two questions on panel composition, which start from as assumption that single person tribunals are both happening and a good thing! GMWRAG remains to be convinced on both fronts.

  • Do you agree that the SPT should be able to determine panel composition based on the changing needs of people using the tribunal system?
  • In order to assist the SPT to make sure that appropriate expertise is provided following the proposed reform, which factors do you think should be considered to determine whether multiple specialists are needed to hear individual cases? Please state your reasons and specify the jurisdictions and/or types of case to which these factors refer.

If you want the future to be Skype tribunals and think there’s no downsides to that you may want to look at a thread running on Rightsnet at http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/10233. As it has been memorably been described there, getting all the tech. working did not auger well and was like

“… Norman Collier meets the Chuckle Brothers on the Starship Enterprise.”

There’s a long read on this on The Guardian web site which is also well worth a look.

The consultation runs from the 15th of September 2016 to the 27th of October 2016 and the intended audience apparently doesn’t include lay representatives so you’ll need to decide if you’re responding as a “legal professional” or perhaps a “citizen”! 😦

CPAG looking for test cases to challenge the Benefit Cap.

CPAG is looking for test cases to challenge the benefit cap. If you are an adviser and have clients currently affected by the cap or who are likely to be affected when the cap is reduced in November 2016, CPAG would like to hear from you. Please complete the referral form here (save it to your computer first). Alternatively, email Testcases@cpag.org.uk

The form can also be downloaded from GMWRAG here.

There’s more information about the benefit cap on CPAG’s website but it’s also worth having a read of

Sophie Earnshaws blog on the impact of the reduced cap.

The New Statesman on 5 reasons why the cap is wrong.

The Guardian on the caps lack of compatibility with the UN convention on the rights of the child.

Benefit Tales on the rise of in work poverty.

One of the biggest reallocations of public resources in 25 years

GMWRAG is disturbed to note that in a week in which the government has decided too many people are getting PIP because they, er, need help, we are now faced with what The Guardian has called “one of the biggest reallocations of public resources in 25 years” with a proposal that has been mooted repeatedly in recent years finally coming out into the light. This would see responsibility for Attendance Allowance moving from the DWP to local authorities.

This has been mentioned previously in the interim report from the Commission on the future of health and social care in England but this has suddenly become a lot more real.

As we all know the general trend of closing down the DWP and privatising what it is left has not exactly worked well with either the Independent Living Fund or the rise in food banks as local welfare assistance schemes have fallen short.

GMWRAG therefore wanted to give members a heads up on what now looks like a full frontal assault on disability benefits. How long before the long awaited review of DLA for children?