Tell the Scottish Justice Minister: don't allow the Legal Aid Board to be swayed by politics

On 14 September 2017 the Court of Session in Edinburgh agreed that permission should be granted for a judicial review in the case of Tilly Gifford v 1) UK Government and 2) Scottish Government.

The full hearing, potentially due later this year, is to determine whether the UK Government acted unlawfully in refusing to extend the terms of reference of the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) north of the border, and as you are no doubt aware it simultaneously challenges the decision of the Scottish Government to refuse to set up an undercover public inquiry of its own.

Scandalously the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) have refused legal aid again. Initially they refused legal aid, during the pre-permission stage because they claimed the case ‘did not have merits.’ The Court of Session then granted permission to proceed to a full Judicial Review (therefore accepting the merits of the case), now SLAB have moved the goal posts – they now claim that legal aid cannot be granted because the case must have a ‘good probability’ of success – this is a misapplication of the test, and raises the prospect that SLAB have been placed under political pressure to refuse legal aid.

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers believe not only should this Inquiry be extended to Scotland, but that this seeming politically motivated decision needs to be challenged.

Please use this e-mail form to make your complaint; fill in your name and email address, then copy the subject line and body of the email below into the relevant boxes.  You can tailor the email as you like.

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Legal Aid, Judicial Review, and the need for a Scottish Public Inquiry

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Dear Mr. Matheson,

On the 14th September 2017 the Court of Session in Edinburgh agreed that permission should be granted for a judicial review in the case of Tilly Gifford v 1) UK Government and 2) Scottish Government.

The full hearing, potentially due later this year, is to determine whether the UK Government acted unlawfully in refusing to extend the terms of reference of the Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI) north of the border. As you are no doubt aware, the hearing will also consider the legality of the Scottish Government’s decision to refuse to set up an undercover public inquiry of its own.

Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI)

You will be aware that in March 2015, Theresa May, the then-Home Secretary, announced her intention to set up a public inquiry into undercover policing. That announcement followed major concerns that officers – as early as 1968 – had spied on political campaigners and had stolen the identities of dead children to create false identities. The officers of the ‘National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) and the Metropolitan Police’s ‘Special Demonstration Squad’ (SDS), had deceived women into forming long-term intimate relationships and had fathered children, they had befriended grieving families seeking justice – including the parents of Stephen Lawrence - spied on trade unionists and acted as agents provocateur.

It is now widely acknowledged that during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005, the Metropolitan Police sent numerous undercover officers into Scotland to spy on activists. Amongst them was Mark Kennedy who had between 2003 and 2010 infiltrated numerous campaign groups and had formed intimate relationships with women. These relationships were furthered with a considerable number of visits to Scotland. Undercover officer Carlo ‘Neri’ targeted a woman known publicly as ‘Andrea’, and had been welcomed into her Scottish family.

The Metropolitan Police have conceded that ‘relationships like these should never have happened. They were wrong and were a gross violation of personal dignity and integrity… these relationships were a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma’.

As you are aware, Tilly Gifford, a social justice campaigner based in Scotland, is bringing the Judicial Review. She was also targeted. In 2009 officers had attempted to recruit her as an informant. In return for cash Ms Gifford was asked to spy on her friends, betray her beliefs and the communities in Scotland she had been campaigning and supporting. She was threatened with prison if she did not co-operate. Ms Gifford recorded these exchanges and they later appeared in ‘the Guardian’ newspaper. The identities of those undercover officers have never been established, and it remains unclear who or why a decision was made to target Ms Gifford.

As is the case for many activists who may have been spied upon in Scotland, the answers to these questions fall outside the remit of the UCPI because it is limited to England and Wales.

Legal Aid, the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) and Independence.

SLAB initially rejected a claim for legal aid claiming the case had ‘no merits.’ After the decision of the Court of Session to accept that the case should proceed to a full Judicial Review hearing, SLAB claimed that the case must show a ‘good probability’ of success. As I am sure you are aware this is the wrong applied test. The case requires a ‘probability’ of success.

This decision appears to be running counter to access to justice. This case raises important administrative, constitutional and human rights issues. It is essential – as understood by the European Court of Human Rights – that in matters of state surveillance, which is a breach of human rights – that the state is held to account. The decision of SLAB is preventing this from taking place.

In light of the above, I call on you to:

  1. Conduct an investigation into the decision of the SLAB to refuse to grant Legal Aid;
  2. Prioritise the issues raised in this letter within the Scottish Government; and
  3. To submit a motion recommending that the Justice Committee / Parliament formally recognise the importance and sensitivity of the concerns raised in this letter in respect of possible undercover policing operations in Scotland, and crucially, the need for the SLAB to grant legal aid in order for the courts to adequately investigate and address these issues.

Without legal aid Ms Gifford will be unable to access justice, and she along with many others who were subjected to this treatment, and the wider public, will be unable to know the truth about undercover political policing that has taken place in Scotland.

Yours sincerely,

Film screening on the forgotten migrant crisis *UPDATED VENUE*

This is Europe?' Voices from the forgotten migration crisis in Greece.

Speakers: 

  • Theodoris Zeis, Greek Asylum and Immigration Lawyer   
  • Christina Orsini, Director of Inadmissible, Founder of Threadable
 

Date:     Wednesday, 24 January 2018
Time:     6.30pm
Venue:   Karamel, 4 Coburg Road, N22 6UJ London, United Kingdom
Tickets:  £5 - tickets available on the door

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers present a seminar discussion and documentary film screening on the daily life and experiences of refugees in Greece.

Whilst the refugee crisis is no longer front-page news, many refugees and migrants continue to arrive in Greece seeking protection and assistance.

During this evening, we will hear from Theodoris Zeis, a Greek Lawyer who will share his experience working at a grassroots level with refugees in mainland Greece.

Following his talk, there will be a film screening of 'Inadmissable', a documentary film discovering the daily life of refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, exploring the legal and human consequences of the migration agreement between Turkey and Greece.

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Fundamental Freedoms in Danger in Egypt

Haldane Condemns Attack on Our Egyptian Comrades

Mahienour el Massry is an award-winning Egyptian human rights lawyer. Matoesem Medhat is a member of the Egyptian Bread and Freedom Party.  They are both currently languishing in prison cells due to persecution from the military dictatorship.  The Haldane Society has sent the following letter to the Egyptian Ambassador.


Day of the Endangered Lawyer 2018

Protest at the Egyptian Embassy

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In 2018 – the eighth year of the Day of the Endangered Lawyer- the focus of the Day of the Endangered Lawyer will be on Egypt. Many human rights organisations, among them Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, IDHAE, ELDH and the International Commission of Jurists confirm that the Egyptian authorities have moved beyond scaremongering and are now rapidly taking concrete steps to shut down the last critical voices in the country’s human rights community.

Today in Egypt, human rights activists, lawyers, political activists and independent journalists, all have to live with their phone calls being tapped, endless smear campaigns and hate speech from state-affiliated media as well as continuous harassment and intimidation from the authorities. Egypt is going through the most serious human rights crisis in its history.

After the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi the human rights situation has deteriorated dramatically. The government has restricted severely freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. The authorities have taken harsh actions against dissidents, ten thousands have been arbitrarily arrested, and many of them tortured in custody. Security forces that killed demonstrators have not been held accountable. After harsh unfair trials, hundreds of people have received prison or even death sentences. Victims of this persecution include not only alleged members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood but also any other opponents to the present government, in particular alleged members of socialist organisations and human rights activists.

 

As a result, the international focus of the 2018 Day of the Endangered Lawyer demonstration will be Egypt.

The demonstration in London will take place on 24 January 2018 at 12 pm at the Egyptian Embassy at 26 South Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 4DW.

We welcome all comrades to join us there.

 

Haldane Winter Party 2017

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Join us on 15 December 2017

The Haldane Winter Party 2017 will be on 15 December 2017, at Garden Court Chambers.  Advance tickets are £10 (full price) or £8 (student/unwaged/low waged).  Tickets on the door will be £15/£10; we will accept cash or PayPal.

Entertainment, drink and vegetarian food will be provided throughout the night, within your ticket price.

Get your tickets now

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AGM and Lecture: What does it mean to be a socialist lawyer?

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Members of the public and of the Society are invited to attend the first installment of our annual lecture series, on 16 November 2017 at 6.30pm.  Our lecture will be on "What does it mean to be a Socialist Lawyer?  A tribute to Michael Seifert."  The main speaker will be Michael Mansfield QC, and there will be time for questions and contributions from the floor.

The event will take place at:
Room S101,
University of Law,
14 Store Street,
London,
WC1E 7DE

AGM

The lecture will be followed by our Annual General Meeting.  The Annual General Meeting passes the policy of the Society, receives reports, and elects the Officers and Executive Committee.

Elections

The following positions will be open to election, and members are encouraged to stand:

  • President (honorary)
  • Vice Presidents (honorary)
  • Chair
  • Vice-Chair (2 positions)
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary
  • Membership Secretary
  • International Secretary
  • Socialist Lawyer Editor
  • Executive Committee Members (number of positions to be decided at the AGM)

The following positions may also be elected at the AGM from within the new Executive Committee, and members are encouraged to stand:

  • Assistant Secretary
  • Assistant Membership Secretary

Nominations for election, along with a manifesto of up to 100 words (statements longer than 100 words will be truncated) may be received any time up to 72 hours before the meeting (i.e. by 6:30 pm on Monday 13 November 2017).  Nominations may also be taken from the floor at the meeting, but these obviously will not be supported by a manifesto.

Motions

Motions may be proposed any time up to 72 hours before the meeting (i.e. by 6:30 pm on Monday 13 November 2017).  Emergency motions may be submitted from the floor at the meeting.

Turkey must release Selçuk Kozağaçlı, head of our sister organisation CHD

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, alongside our colleagues and comrades from across the world, condemns the arrest of Selçuk Kozağaçlı on Wednesday 8 November by the Turkish authorities and demands his immediate release.

According to press reports, Selçuk Kozağaçlı was arrested whilst on his way to a meeting concerning the rights of human rights defenders.

The Haldane Society echoes the grave concerns shown by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights for the safety of Selçuk Kozağaçlı whilst he remains detained. It is the Society’s understanding that Selcuk is now on hunger strike, although he is still accepting sugar and water. He has declared that if his transfer to court takes more than four days, he will no longer accept sugar and water.

The Haldane Society further notes from that Selçuk Kozağaçlı is one of 17 attorneys arrested in the last two months who has been involved in representing Semih Özakça and Nuriye Gülmen in a case before the European Court of Human Rights (ApplicationNumbers: 46171/17, 45940/17).

The Haldane Society demands the immediate release of Selçuk Kozağaçlı and reiterates its call made on 14 January 2017, that the Turkish government ‘respects the professional work and role of lawyers, and complies in particular with Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as Art. 16 and 18 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

European Union, Brexit – the future of workers' rights

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Support for Brexit as well as any other exit from the EU can be interpreted in different ways. From a workers’ point of view it can be interpreted as strong discontent with the development of workers’ rights and the standard of living of workers. But it can also be interpreted as the success of new nationalistic populism is often fueled by racism.

Those who defend the right to remain in the EU can be neoliberals.  However, they can also be workers and their organisations who want to defend existing European workers’ rights and who want to use the EU to improve workers’ rights and human rights generally.  They can also be those who support freedom of movement of both workers and refugees.

At the conference we will investigate whether the EU can be a framework to safeguard and to improve workers’ rights or if it isan obstacle. We will also discuss strategies to defend workers’ rights under the conditions of Brexit and other exit strategies but also within the countries which remain in the EU. We will discuss this from the point of view of British workers as well as workers in other EU countries as well as in candidate states like Serbia. Finally in this context we will include the view of workers from the, EU, candidate states and Russia.

Register

Register and see the programme here

Undercover political policing and state surveillance.

Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) host:

Undercover political policing and state surveillance.

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Meeting Monday 25 September, 7pm -9pm, Auditorium, Brighthelm Centre, North Road, Brighton BN1 1YD.

All welcome including Labour Party delegates, The World Transformed attendees, labour movement activists in Brighton.

Speakers:

  • Richard Burgon MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
  • Helen Steel (Spies out of Lives)
  • Dave Smith (blacklisted trade union activist, Blacklist Support Group)
  • Shamik Dutta, Bhatt Murphy solicitors, representing nine core participants in the Public Inquiry;
  • Mark Thomas (comedian, activist, new book The Liar's Quartet).
  • Chair Liz Davies (Haldane Society).

The Haldane Society and COPS have been actively supporting labour movement, environmental, peace and other left-wing activists and organisations who discovered that they were infiltrated by under-cover police agents aka "SPYCOPS".

More than 1,000 groups have been spied on by Britain’s political secret police, the Undercover Policing Inquiry confirmed in July 2017.

This startling figure was first published in September 2016 in the second edition of Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists. The new official confirmation came from the Inquiry in reply to questions asked by lawyers acting for around 200 significantly targeted people who have been granted core participant status at the Inquiry.

The 1,000+ groups were targeted by undercover units, primarily the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, since the SDS was formed in 1968.

Our speakers Helen Steel, Dave Smith and Mark Thomas have direct experience of being spied upon. Helen Steel has accepted an apology and settlement from the police following its admission that her former partner was an undercover police officer. Dave Smith was a construction site worker, blacklisted for his trade union activities. His book "Blacklisted: the Secret War between big business and union activists" exposed the close connection between employers in the construction industry, the Consulting Association (which kept secret files on trade unionists and provided information to potential employers), and the police. Mark Thomas was spied upon and betrayed when he was active in the Campaign against the Arms Trade, by a close friend who was secretly working for British Aerospace.

Solicitor Shamik Dutta is a partner at Bhatt Murphy solicitors, and represents nine core particpants in the Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing. 

Further information: http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/about/

Too Stretched to be Flexible

HALDANE CONDEMNS THE FOH PROPOSALS

WE CALL FOR SUPPORT OF ORGANISED NON-PARTICIPATION IN ALL PILOT COURTS

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The Haldane Society condemns the (In)Flexible Operating Hours Proposals (“FOH”) for criminal and civil courts in England and Wales. We refuse to allow 6 months for the pilot scheme to wreak havoc on those most vulnerable at the Bar and those working in criminal firms or working as court support staff.

What is it?

The FOH pilot scheme seeks to extend court sitting hours, operating a shift system in some courts. Pilot schemes will operate for 6 months, beginning in September/October 2017. The proposed pilot courts are Newcastle and Blackfriars Crown Courts, Sheffield and Highbury Corner magistrates' courts, Brentford County Court, and Manchester Civil Justice Centre. Crown Courts will sit from 9am, with a second shift from 2pm to 6pm. Civil courts will sit until 7pm and magistrates’ courts until 8.30pm.

Why We Oppose FOH

Criticisms of the scheme have been raised by the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Criminal Bar Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association amongst others. Chairman of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, has noted that working the proposed hours would be 'almost impossible' for those with childcare responsibilities. As these duties continue to fall disproportionately on women, female members of the Bar are likely to see the biggest impact on their practice.

This is a backward step in terms of diversity and equality of access. It is an accepted fact that retention of women and ethnic minority lawyers at the Bar is unacceptably low, a position rendered more bleak by the impact of this scheme.

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These proposals will increase the already excessive financial pressure on criminal firms, particularly small practices. Many junior barristers are already warning of the likelihood that they will be forced to leave the Bar should the proposals come into force. It has been argued that the scheme is only a pilot and so should be allowed to proceed. –However, the risks of the pilot can be seen at the outset and are so harmful that the pilot cannot realistically begin: 6 months of an attack on diversity is 6 months too many, and is an attack from which some people’s practices may not recover.

The impact will be felt long before the pilot scheme concludes. The likely long-term results are further closures of firms and more criminal barristers leaving the Bar. The problems will be particularly stark for those with children, caring responsibilities and without family support - precisely the practitioners for whom the Bar should be increasing its support.

There is a mental health crisis at the Bar, arising in large part from poor pay and poor working conditions many barristers face. For women and ethnic minorities, proposals for well-being and mental health support are futile in a working environment that renders it impossible to maintain a practice. Work-life balance is a concept unfamiliar to most barristers. The improbability of being able to prepare cases when sitting late, beginning early and caring for others is a further step in the wrong direction.

Support for Action

The Bar Council Protocol for Court Sitting Hours recommends a basic structure of sitting hours between 10am and 4.30pm, save for emergency hearings, long cases, or in particular circumstances with no less than 24 hours’ notice. Whilst there is much work to be done beyond these proposals, Haldane supports this structure as an initial step towards enabling genuine diversity and equal access at the Bar.

The Haldane Society supports those barristers who refuse to have cases placed into split shift courts, even if this is on the basis that their working hours are already too high or that the case may be returned to someone in chambers who may have caring responsibilities.

The Haldane Society also supports those barristers who intend not to retain instructions when a criminal case is put into a split shift court.

The Haldane Society supports those chambers who have agreed not to accept returned cases in split shift courts.

The Haldane Society supports workers at the criminal Bar, criminal solicitors, paralegals and court support staff.

 

If any workers are struggling financially as a result of the proposed action i.e. from returning work or not accepting returned work, please contact us and we may be able to assist. If there is any other way we can assist with supporting workers in the criminal justice system as a result of FOH proposals and resultant action, please let us know at vicechair@haldane.org. Anything discussed will be on a private and confidential basis.

Loss of our Vice President, Michael Seifert

The solicitor Michael Seifert, who has died aged 74, and his firm Seifert Sedley, worked to help Britain’s miners and their leaders through what Arthur Scargill, former president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), described as “our most difficult period in the past century”.

“The working class have lost a true warrior and I have lost a true friend,” was Scargill’s response to Michael’s death. From the outset of the miners’ strike in 1984, Michael committed himself and his firm to their cause. First to need help were the miners on strike in Nottinghamshire. The local NUM branch opposed the strike and withheld resources. Seifert Sedley lawyers were dispatched to Ollerton Miners’ welfare centre to provide regular free legal advice sessions and to Nottinghamshire magistrates courts to represent the increasing numbers of striking miners who were being arrested. The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers was galvanised to develop this support.

Margaret Thatcher used “every means” against the miners, said Scargill. These included the flooding of the NUM with writs from well-funded opponents: writs claiming that picketing amounted to unlawful harassment; writs claiming the national strike was not official; and writs seeking sequestration of the union funds and putting it into receivership. Michael went to the limit to protect the NUM. But Thatcher got what she wanted.

Nevertheless, the miners managed to strike for nearly a year, during which time Seifert Sedley provided thousands of pounds’ worth of legal assistance, without expecting payment. The following year, Michael represented striking printers during the Wapping dispute with similar vigour. A committed communist, Michael was a significant figure of the left throughout the last half century. It was his involvement with progressive causes as much as his incisive legal mind that made the advice he gave wise, unstinting and trusted.

Money was not an issue, if clients did not have it. Michael did not advertise nor appear in the media. He did not seek and was not given any legal establishment awards. However he was given honours that delighted him: he was made an honorary member of the NUM in 1985; invited by the ANC to attend the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994; and made vice-president of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers in 2006.

Michael advised trade unions and their general secretaries including Rodney Bickerstaffe, Ken Gill, Ken Cameron and Alan Sapper, and the GLC leader Ken Livingstone. He was proud to do so: but for Michael the struggles of individual workers or activists required the same support. Michael was often no mere legal adviser but his client’s friend. In 1972, he represented Anna Mendelssohn of the Angry Brigade, who was charged with causing explosions in protest against the Industrial Relations bill. He arranged for her to live with him at his parents’ house in order to secure her bail.

Michael gave ANC leaders strategic legal advice during their years in exile. He also sued the South African government for conspiracy to kidnap the ANC representative in London. Michael advised the Anti-Apartheid Movement as well, at times securing its very survival. For decades, he shouldered for the Morning Star newspaper the stress of the legal challenges it faced, and the Marx Memorial Library also relied on his advice.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign depended on his politically sophisticated assessments of what legal issues to avoid and what to pursue – and relied on his skill and vast network to persuade specialist lawyers to take up cases at reduced rates. From 2003 Michael also chaired the Music Fund for Cuba, which provides instruments to young Cuban musicians.

Michael’s expertise was widely sought-after. The Socialist Workers party and its predecessor referred cases to Seifert Sedley because they trusted Michael. He was on the board of Friends of the Earth (1990-2006), legal adviser to Greenpeace (from 1990) and a director of North Kensington law centre (2001-14). He had loyal commercial clients.

Born in London, Michael was the son of Connie (nee Shine), a teacher, and Sigmund Seifert, a lawyer, who were both communists. As the eldest child, Michael sought to lead his three siblings, generally into trouble. The family home was vibrant and full of visiting political personalities, such as Paul Robeson and Angela Davis.

From Highgate school, in 1960 Michael gained an open exhibition in history to St John’s College, Oxford. He trained to be a solicitor with Lord (Arnold) Goodman. Michael then joined the family firm, Seifert Sedley, founded by his uncle Bill Sedley. When it closed in 1991 he worked as a sole practitioner at the offices of Simons Muirhead & Burton.

Michael was warm, gregarious, funny and very opinionated. Seifert Sedley’s office was lively and full – sometimes with the children of staff or clients. This did not always go well: the daughter of one client was startled when Michael asked her whether she enjoyed having her milk snatched by Thatcher. His legacy includes a cadre of lawyers trained by him to be astute to the politics of law, and to respect their clients and their causes. These lawyers, just like his clients, frequently went back to him for advice – which he often gave over lunches he insisted on paying for.

He was passionate about football, cricket, art, opera, history and poetry, and had an extraordinarily wide social circle. He walked – often in plimsolls, and smoking – with the Red Ramblers group. He attended Haldane and Marx Memorial meetings into his 70s, debating energetically and encouraging young people to do so.

For many years Michael lived in a modest flat in Notting Hill, west London, where he held annual carnival parties. Then, from 1993, he lived with his partner, Caroline Conran, relishing family life with her. He was a generous host – to eat, drink and talk was his joy.

He is survived by Caroline, and by his sister, Susan, and brother, Roger.

• Michael Seifert, solicitor, born 30 July 1942; died 19 July 2017

This article was originally published in the Guardian.