“We are the petrol that keeps the engine running. Rights cannot be properly upheld without this fuel.”
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Marc Bloomfield
Description: YLAL logo web
YLAL has been busier than ever over the past couple of months so we thought we would take this opportunity to update you on our activities.
On 3 March, YLAL co-hosted (with the Public Law Project and The Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellows) 'The Fight for Social Justice: Young Lawyers Making Change', a conference attended by over 100 junior and aspiring social justice lawyers. We were fortunate to hear from several inspiring and high-profile speakers, including Dr Laura Janes (founder of YLAL, legal director of the Howard League and current LAG chair) and Louise Christian (founder and former senior partner at Christian Khan). The conference held sessions on legal updates, self-care, campaigning, legal aid applications, how to become a social justice lawyer, strategic litigation and using international law in a domestic context. Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, closed the conference by reminding attendees about the power of hope: ‘To make that hope real, you have to really work. If you can be both hopeful and hard-working, then you will change the world for the better.’
On 13 March, YLAL launched its latest social mobility report, Social mobility in a time of austerity (see April 2018 Legal Action 14), online and at events in Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield. It identifies major barriers to the legal aid sector in the form of debt and low salaries, as well as an expectation that those entering the profession will carry out significant unpaid work experience. Stress and a lack of support were also found to be great difficulties. The report sets out a series of recommendations (such as mandatory minimum salaries set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, compliance with YLAL’s work experience charter and improved welfare initiatives), for which we will be campaigning over the coming months.
On 27 March, YLAL and the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise public awareness of our broken justice system and the further harm that will be done if the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) persists with further cuts through the advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS), under which many barristers are currently refusing to accept new cases. Some £10,000 was raised over the first three days alone, which means YLAL and the CBA will be able to send every MP a copy of the Secret Barrister’s book, Stories of the law and how it is broken, along with our social mobility report.
On 18 April, YLAL supported the Justice Alliance and Speak Up for Justice with their Vigil for Justice demonstration outside the MoJ in London, which attracted well over 100 lawyers, including members of YLAL, as well as numerous trade union members. YLAL’s co-chair, Katherine Barnes, opened the vigil with a description of the crisis plaguing the justice system. She raised particular concerns about the ongoing viability of the legal aid profession and the effect this has on the justice system as a whole, which ‘does not operate in a vacuum. It requires skilled and professional solicitors and barristers to work in it – we are the petrol that keeps the engine running. Rights cannot be properly upheld without this fuel’. The event was widely covered by the legal press, including this publication (see May 2018 Legal Action 6), the Law Society Gazette and Legal Cheek.
On 20 April, YLAL North teamed up with Greater Manchester Law Centre to host 'Legal Aid and the Future of Free Access to Justice'. Our vice-chair, Siobhan Taylor-Ward, spoke alongside Lord Bach, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon and Joe Mensah-Dankwah of the Black Solicitors Network. Burgon announced a Labour pledge to reinstate legal help for all housing cases; YLAL welcomed this but called on the party to go further by reinstating it for welfare benefits, debt and immigration too.
As an organisation of limited resources, made up of volunteers who work or study (or do a combination of both), YLAL is heavily dependent on the support of others within the legal profession. We would like to thank all those who have offered assistance over the past year. We would also like to thank our members for their ongoing commitment to YLAL. We could not do it without you.
The coming months could be a crucial time for access to justice and the very future of the profession, with the government review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) now under way, the ongoing action against the AGFS, and judicial reviews brought by the Law Society against the reformed litigators’ graduated fee scheme and by the Law Centres Network (LCN) against the new housing possession court duty scheme contracts.1The LCN is crowdfunding for the case.
YLAL has not been invited to any of the consultative groups forming part of the LASPO review, but we have asked to meet with the MoJ to ensure that the collective voice of current and future generations of young legal aid lawyers is heard. We believe that urgent investment in the system is required to restore access to justice and protect the rule of law. We will continue to make the case whenever we can. We are for justice – are you?
 
1     The LCN is crowdfunding for the case. »

About the author(s)

Description: Katherine Barnes - author
Katherine Barnes is a barrister at 39 Essex Chambers and co-chair and treasurer of Young Legal Aid Lawyers.
Description: Oliver Carter - author
Oliver Carter is a solicitor in the public law and human rights team at Irwin Mitchell and co-chair of Young Legal Aid Lawyers.
Description: Siobhan Taylor-Ward - author
Siobhan Taylor-Ward is a trainee at Merseyside Law Centre and vice-chair of Young Legal Aid Lawyers.