The importance of telling stories
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Books (Pexels_Karolina Grabowska)
Better than chocolate cake is how Lady Hale is described by the children in LAG's book Equal to Everything: Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court. She disagrees. But, having known her as patron of Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre for the past 10 years, I have to say I’m with the children on this one. Back then, she was famous but nowhere near the iconic status she has now. We were fortunate to have her as patron, and this was down to my colleague, Richard Roberts, who charmed her into accepting. Since then, she has walked with us, sponsored us, visited us and, in turn, invited us to the Supreme Court. She has been a great friend to the Law Centre over many years.
When I told Lady Hale I was joining LAG, she replied: ‘Isn’t that a little out of the frying pan and into the fire?’ It made me laugh. She used to teach for LAG – travelling down from Manchester when she was a university lecturer, instructing young lawyers on how to obtain domestic violence injunctions in the family court. ‘It was an exciting time,’ she told me. When I met with the founders of LAG for its 45th anniversary, they told me that Lady Hale ‘saved LAG’ with her lectures. It’s another thing she disputes.
When I came to LAG in late March of this year, one of my first tasks was to find us a new home. When Gatehouse Chambers invited LAG to join them in their new building, I was excited to see the premises, having heard about its rooftop terrace overlooking Gray’s Inn. The site visit was equally impressive, and tempting, but when Gatehouse's practice operations director, Zoe Mellor, told me the Royal Mail had agreed to the proposed new name of Lady Hale Gate (it not having had one before), I knew we had to accept. It felt like serendipity. Especially as we will be sharing our space with the wonderful London Legal Support Trust and my lovely friends at the Law Centres Network. Thank you, Gatehouse Chambers, for our new home!
When Lady Hale opened her Gate in July, I took the opportunity to ask her for an interview for Legal Action. I was thrilled that she accepted.
When I met Lady Hale on Zoom, the situation in Afghanistan had just started to unfold. We touched on it lightly, but since then the news has been devastating. We will do all we can at LAG to share information and to help in any way possible. Please do get in touch. The International Association of Women Judges has created a fundraising page to provide direct aid to Afghan members if you want to donate.
Lady Hale and I spoke about the power of stories. I told her that I gave my dad a copy of Jobs and Homes: stories of the law in lockdown by David Renton for Father’s Day, and that he had rung me to say he loved the book, which had given him a window into my world. He has often told me how he never really understood my decision to work in Law Centres when I could’ve made money in the City, but David’s book had illustrated why. Having been fed the tabloid narrative for many years, David’s book had shown him that people weren’t to blame, that it wasn’t their fault when they lost their home or their income. He now wants a subscription to Legal Action.
Although the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards might feel like a whole summer ago (they were), we are still as excited to celebrate the 2021 winners. Congratulations to all who won – full details are here. Legal aid lawyers work long and hard, and do it for an hourly rate that has not increased in 24 years. This is why the decision to allow extended hours in the criminal court is so vehemently opposed. The justice system needs more funding – it is not acceptable to simply lengthen the court day. This will impact disproportionately on disabled practitioners, court staff and court users, and those with childcare duties and caring responsibilities. I took part in the extended hours pilot at the County Court at Brentford in 2019/20. On most days, there were no defendants at 8 am. The one mortgage case that did get heard couldn’t be resolved until after 9 am as the mortgagor’s office didn’t open until then and the solicitor couldn’t get instructions. My personal experience, having taken part, was that the pilot was of no real benefit and just meant I had really early mornings and longer days.
Lady Hale said in our meeting that social care is, ‘in a way, the most serious welfare problem facing the population’, which leads me nicely to LAG’s Community Care Law Conference on 7 and 8 October. Do join us – we have a great line-up of speakers. Perhaps I should get my dad a ticket!

About the author(s)

Description: Sue James - author
Sue James is CEO of LAG. She was previously director and housing solicitor at Hammersmith & Fulham Law Centre and a founding trustee at Ealing Law...