There are times when I feel the legal profession is increasingly at the mercy of governments and public authorities that appear to have little appreciation of the role of lawyers in defending individuals’ rights and challenging abuses of power.
And if that is the case, they equally have little concern for the rights of the less fortunate members of society who may have a particular need of professional help in standing up for those rights.
Two things in particular have sprung to prominence in recent weeks.
First we had the disgraceful Home Office video with its slighting reference to “activist lawyers” preventing the removal of people seeking to establish a right to be allowed to remain in the UK. It was, tardily, removed from the social media channels to which it had been posted; the Home Office’s permanent secretary accepted that it should not have been expressed in those terms; yet the Home Secretary herself has since repeated the phrase.
That from a Government whose ministers indiscriminately refer to “illegal” migrants when there is no illegality about genuine refugees attempting to reach this country, and which has failed so far to pay the promised compensation to the great majority of those wronged by the Windrush scandal. Oh, and which also seems intent on restricting the scope of judicial review, even while it seeks to limit other forms of scrutiny over the exercise of its powers.
The second issue is the savage cuts to funding of advice centres proposed by Glasgow City Council. Two law centres, including Castlemilk, the oldest in Scotland, stood to lose their support completely; others including Govan faced cuts in the region of 33%. Five CAB offices faced closure. No doubt, as the council said, it received many more applications for support than it could meet, but that did not explain its priorities in proposing a 60% cut in financial and debt advice, at a time when need can only increase as the full impact of the recession starts to bite.
As we sign off, a temporary reprieve appears imminent, but these are services that need more secure funding. It must be of great concern that long-established agencies that help thousands in less advantaged areas can be left at the mercy of grant allocations in this way.
I fear that we are in a period that calls for constant vigilance, and we must not be slow to act when necessary and call foul. Prompt and coordinated protest produced results in both of these instances. There is likely to be an ongoing need to stand up for those who most need our help.
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