Editorial: Continuing the fight for rights and justice
.
.
.
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Parliament (sedmak iStock)
When I was planning the LAG Housing Law Conference in March 2022, I could not have anticipated that the government would provide the answer to my question, ‘The end of s21 – how do we achieve that?’, which was listed as one of the plenary sessions. Fortuitously, the white paper, A fairer private rented sector (CP 693, which abolishes the no-fault ground for eviction, found in Housing Act 1988 s21) was released on 16 June, the morning of the first day of the conference. Having been warned the day before that the white paper was imminent, we decided to switch the s21 plenary from Thursday to Friday to enable the panel to respond to the proposals. When the simply brilliant Liz Davies QC, who was chairing the session, asked if I wanted her to ‘prepare a PowerPoint presentation overnight’, I wanted to hug her (which is extremely hard to do on Zoom).
The white paper has been described as once-in-a-generation reform of housing law – but as with all such things, the devil is in the detail. There are many positives, but with nine new mandatory grounds of possession, will the forthcoming Act be more of a Trojan horse than a tenants’ charter? Rights are meaningless without the power to enforce them and with fixed recoverable costs threatening the livelihood of housing lawyers, will there be anyone left to help? It is hard to understand the logic of such damaging proposals: it is not joined-up thinking and highlights the need for systemic change to address the stark fact that people are increasingly unable to access their legal rights.
The conference theme asked the question: ‘Housing law: is it time for reform?’ Jamie Burton QC outlined what the right to a home might look like and argued that reform is possible – we just need to invest in the idea, which allows us to look forward with hope and inspiration.
Other plenaries included an analysis of the reforms needed to the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 to stop the huge problem of illegal evictions, and we heard what the tenancy reforms in Wales will look like when they are introduced. The session from members of the Dying Homeless Project was both inspiring and sobering as they spoke of holding the state to account for the deaths of homeless people. Miranda Keast from the Museum of Homelessness told the conference that there had been 976 such deaths in 2020 and 1,286 in 2021.
I would personally like to thank all the speakers – judges, lawyers, academics and activists – who took the time to prepare for the plenaries and workshops, and shared their knowledge and skills. We at LAG are very grateful. We could not stage such an interesting, informative and challenging conference without you. Special thanks to Rob Rinder for sharing his thoughts on legal aid, justice and how we, as legal aid lawyers, can improve the public understanding of what we do.
It has been a month of exceptional colleagues performing exceptional feats. Huge respect for those who worked so hard, and without sleep, to ensure no one was on that first flight out to Rwanda. It was an uplifting moment, in a barrage of continued attacks from the government. Twitter (for a change) was a positive force for good, keeping us up to date on the cases' progress. On 15 June, Duncan Lewis Public Law tweeted:
In the last 5 days, we have been in the High Court, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and ECtHR. The interim measure from Strasbourg set the wheels in motion for all remaining others to be taken off the flight. No one went to Rwanda yday. No one is above the law. The fight continues.
The fight is still going on for justice for the 72 people who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire: 14 June marked the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, and 14 September will mark the fifth year since the start of the inquiry – without any arrests (see page 8). Imran Khan QC, speaking at Westminster Abbey, gave a message from the bereaved to those in power: ‘You failed us then and you are failing us now.’
The fight has only just started for criminal barristers, who commenced their industrial action on 27 June. Demonstrations were held outside Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham Crown Courts, and the Old Bailey. Civil and criminal colleagues joined the demonstrations in an act of solidarity and support (see page 6).
The fight doesn’t end there, though. In the UK, the government has introduced its Bill of Rights and in the US, we have seen the decision in Roe v Wade overturned by the Supreme Court – both eroding hard-won fundamental human rights. There is a great deal of work to be done to fight back – but we can. I leave you with the challenge with which Jamie Burton QC opened the Housing Law Conference: ‘England is at a grave risk of becoming a human rights backwater and we have a responsibility to change that.’

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...