Solicitors in the North East will join a nationwide boycott that could see criminal courts grind to a halt.
Lawyers in the region have backed an unprecedented protest over the government’s cut to legal aid, which comes into force today.
They said a planned 8.75% cut to the publicly funded criminal legal aid budget was “uneconomic” and “unsustainable”.
Mass meetings of solicitors and barristers who specialise in criminal work were originally held in Liverpool but later also in Newcastle, London, Manchester, Leeds, and other cities.
All agreed not to take on any legal aid cases as of today, but will continue to do duty work to avoid breaching their contract.
Legal aid is the help given to people that may not otherwise afford their own lawyers and is a big source of income for many firms.
Solicitors in the Northumbria area, which includes, Newcastle, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead, have backed the nationwide action after they held a meeting at Northumbria University on Monday night.
Lewis Pearson, deputy vice-president of the Newcastle Law Society and partner at Pearson Caulfield solicitors, in Newcastle, said the boycott was a last-ditch effort to save legal aid.
The controversial sell-off of the Land Registry was abandoned yesterday (Monday, July 14), after ministers admitted it had run into overwhelming opposition.
The likely £1bn privatisation of the 150-year-old institution – which employs more than 400 civil servants in Durham City – was suspended indefinitely, MPs were told in a statement.
The decision followed strong criticism from solicitors and trades unions about putting a private firm in charge of all land and property data and the threat of higher charges for the public.
Yesterday, the Department for Business (BIS) admitted that 91 per cent of respondents to its consultation did not believe the shake-up would deliver services “more efficiently and effectively”.
In addition, 88 per cent of respondents “did not agree that the overall design provides the right checks and balances to protect the integrity of the register”.
In recent weeks, the Liberal Democrats had made clear they were getting cold feet – over a deal that the Conservatives hoped would raise substantial funds for the Treasury.
Business minister Michael Fallon told MPs: “Given the importance of the Land Registry to the effective operation of the UK property market, we have concluded that further consideration would be valuable.
However, Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods – while welcoming the move – urged ministers to come clean about their long-term intentions for the Land Registry.
Although officials briefed that the sale had been “abandoned”, BIS also said it still favoured privatisation and would continue to “develop the policy”.
Ms Blackman-Woods said: “I want them to scrap the whole idea, not just put it on hold this side of the general election.
“I will be writing to Vince Cable and Michael Fallon, asking them to accept the overwhelming evidence that this privatisation would create a conflict of interest and that people would not trust the data as much.”
Leading City firms had been approached for their advice on setting up a joint venture between the government and a private company, to take charge of the Land Registry.
BIS also considered turning it into a state-owned company that could be sold off, or letting a private company run the body as a so-called ‘GovCo’.
Yesterday, officials denied the U-turn was connected to fierce criticism of Dr Cable over the sell-off of Royal Mail – allegedly at a £1bn loss.
BIS also made clear that the Land Registry would press ahead with creating a single register, instead of separate lists maintained and delivered by 348 local authorities.
It said standardising fees and turnaround times would end the situation where fees vary between £3 and £96 across the country – and turnaround times between one and 42 days.
Source – Durham Times, 15 July 2014
This article was written by James Meikle, for theguardian.com on Friday 21st February 2014
The government’s welfare shakeup has survived two legal challenges at the court of appeal after five disabled tenants failed in their attempt to get the bedroom tax declared unlawful and judges ruled against claims the £500-a-week cap on benefits violated the human rights of vulnerable families.
The decisions mean that central planks of Iain Duncan Smith’s benefits changes remain intact, although there may yet be further challenges at the supreme court.
The bedroom challenge questioned the legality of new “size criteria” regulations that have led to reductions in housing benefit payments to tenants in social housing assessed to be underoccupying their home. It was backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Two lone parents and a child from each family challenged the benefit cap after being forced into temporary accommodation in London.
Campaigners say the welfare cuts are having a particularly harsh impact on women fleeing domestic violence, and on their children, threatening to trap them in abusive relationships.
Those challenging the bedroom tax vowed to continue their battle following the ruling. Ugo Hayter from law firm Leigh Day, representing two people with disabilities who argue that their second bedroom is essential, said lawyers were disappointed and baffled by the ruling.
“The court recognised that our clients and thousands of disabled people across the UK had a need for accommodation not provided for by the new housing benefit rules. However, the court decided that disabled tenants should not have their housing needs met on an equivalent basis to their able-bodied counterparts just because they are disabled.
“Instead disabled tenants are being forced to rely on short-term and discretionary payments. We are currently considering whether an appeal to the supreme court is possible. Our thoughts go out to the thousands of disabled tenants who continue to be faced with uncertainty, poverty and the risk of eviction.”
Anne McMurdie, of Public Law Solicitors, which is acting for three of the appellants, said: “The government has sought to make savings by targeting the most vulnerable in our society. On the government’s own figures at least 440,000 disabled households will lose out under the new regulations.
“There is compelling and growing evidence of the terrible adverse impact on disabled tenants, having to make the dreadful choice between paying the rent and buying food or heating their homes. Disabled tenants are not asking for extra funds, they are asking for housing benefit to be paid at a level which meets their needs – for the same right as others.”
Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive of Sense, the national deafblind charity, said the bedroom tax policy had been devastating for many disabled people. “Many have been found to have a so-called extra bedroom despite requiring it because of their disability, for example needing extra space to store disability-related equipment and for short-term carers.
“Many disabled people, including the deafblind people that Sense supports, have been pushed to breaking point. They are struggling with the transition from DLA [disability living allowance] to Pip [personal independence payment] and many are facing huge cuts to their social care, leaving them without the support they desperately need to live full and active lives,” said Kramer.
“Alongside other benefits being cut, housing benefit has been the final blow for many disabled people and can lead to serious financial hardship.”
A statement from the Department for Work and Pensions said:”Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of the benefit. But we have ensured extra discretionary housing support is available for vulnerable people.”
On the issue of the cap, the statement said: “We are pleased that the courts have ruled again that the benefit cap complies with the European convention on human rights. The benefit cap sets a fair limit to what people can expect to get from the welfare system – so that claimants cannot receive more than £500 a week, the average household earnings.”
In the judgments, Lord Dyson said Duncan Smith was aware of the “serious impact” of the new criteria for housing benefit, which was why so much effort had been devoted to seeking a solution. He recognised the benefit cap would “cause hardship to some (possibly many) people who are on benefit” but the government recognised it might need modification.
> I suspect the only modification Duncan Smith has in mind is extending hardship from “some” people to the greatest number possible.
The cap in its present form reflected the political judgment of the government and had been endorsed by parliament after considerable debate. It was not up to the court to say whether it agreed with the judgment or not, he said.
Rebekah Carrier, of Hopkin Murray Beskine solicitors, representing two women who had fled violent marriages along with their children and were challenging the benefit cap, said the judges had not decided important issues of principle affecting the large numbers of women and children made homeless by domestic violence every year.
“The government promised to address this in April 2013, 10 months ago, but has failed to do so. The court recognised the problem and expressed concern about the government’s delay in addressing it, but they have abandoned many domestic violence victims to their fate until the government chooses to act,” said Carrier.
“That is not good enough for my clients, or for the many women who will face a stark choice about whether to stay with a violent partner, or flee and risk losing their home or being destitute.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 21 Feb 2014