Response to the Commission on a Bill of Rights – Second Consultation

The image in this article is the logo of the Commission on a Bill of Rights.

The image in this article is the logo of the Commission on a Bill of Rights.

The Haldane Society has submitted a response to the Commission on a Bill of Rights' Second Consultation.  The Commission has been charged with making recommendations as to whether the UK needs a new Bill of Rights.  The Haldane Society welcomes the opportunity to further reinforce the protection of human rights within the British legal system, both in the context of those rights protected in the existing Human Rights Act 1998, and in other international conventions.  The Haldane Society therefore calls on the government:

  • To protect the existing Human Rights Act 1998;
  • To sign and ratify the Council of Europe's Revised Social Charter and encorporate it into domestic law, providing the same protection for the rights it contains as is provided for those set out in the Human Rights Act;
  • To place further rights, such as the right to jury trial and the right to silence, on the same footing;
  • To cease attacks on legal aid, and instead to expand its scope, so as to allow rights to be properly enforced in the courts;
  • To prevent the avoidance of the state's duties to protect human rights by privatising public authorities;
  • To encourage the proper funding of the European Court of Human Rights so as to allow rights to be properly enforced.

Read the Society's response in full.


Haldane Society responded to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on "Options for dealing with Squatting".

Our response is here:

The Society is opposed to proposalstto create a new criminal offence of trespass (or squatting) for the following reasons;

The paper presents no evidence, other than stories in the press, that squatting of individual's homes is a significant problem. Such evidence as has been gathered- for example the recently published report by Crisis- "Squatting a homelessness issue" ( download pdf here ) - suggests ,squatting takes place in unoccupied properties and is the last resort of the desperate

The unauthorized occupation of residential premises is already a criminal offence under Section 7 of the 1977 Criminal Law Act., and it is a myth to say that the current law, when properly applied, is not adequate to deal with the problems. This is a question of education and administration not legislation. The creation of a new offence is unnecessary

It is proposed to extend the new offence to the occupation of all types of buildings, including the commercial and the public. Adequate remedies are available in the civil court to the owners of such properties and they have the knowledge and resources to use them. In the current economic climate, there is no justification for such an extension of the law to protect those who are not faced with the loss of their home and who already have adequate means of resolving their own problems.

There is no discussion of enforcement. The police are currently unwilling to involve themselves in disputes relating to property. It is unlikely that the proposed new offence will change this. Resource strapped local authorities (many of whom no longer have tenancy relations service) will not be willing to enforce the law either.

The new offence would be open to abuse by unscrupulous landlords.

The minister is dismissive of the idea that squatting is a reasonable recourse of the homeless suffering from social deprivation because

"There are avenues open to those who are genuinely destitute and who need shelter which do not involve occupying somebody else's property without authority. No matter how compelling or difficult the squatter's own circumstances, it is wrong that legitimate occupants should be deprived of the use of their property".

The Society disagrees. The avenues open to the genuinely destitute have become increasingly narrowed in recent years. The number of affordable tenancies (either public or private) has shrunk massively. The changes in Housing Benefit will exacerbate this. Many of the homeless do not receive the assistance from local authorities that they are entitled to. There is every indication that this will get worse, as the Crisis report suggests.

The minister refers to proposal "stop squatters getting legal aid to fight eviction." People who are accused of squatting only get Legal Aid if they can demonstrate that they have a reasonable chance of proving they have a right to remain - in which case they are not squatters.

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and Avocats Sans Frontiers present

"Enforcing Housing Rights: the case of Sheikh Jarrah": a report of the fact-finding mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Tensions have flared in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian area located to the north of the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem. Over the last three years, more than 60 Palestinians have been forcibly evicted in this area and at least another 500 are at risk of dispossession and displacement, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

Since the start of the Israeli occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, which continues until today, the Palestinian refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah have been the target of eviction proceedings brought by the Committees and their successor, the Nahalat Shimon Company (to whom all rights and obligations were transferred in 2008-2009), before Israeli courts, resulting in the eviction of 4 refugee families to date (60 people) – the Mohammad Al-Kurd, Al-Ghawi, Hanoun and Rifqa Al-Kurd families – all of whom had already been forcibly displaced at least once before.

Following a request from local lawyers and NGOs received by Avocats Sans Frontières, an international legal expert mission visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) from 19 to 23 December 2010. The delegation - organised by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers - consisted of four English barristers, all specializing in housing rights – John Beckley, Liz Davies, and Marina Sergides and John Hobson as well as English barrister and human rights lawyer Hannah Rought-Brooks and Bill Bowring, also a barrister practising at the European Court of Human Rights, and Professor of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London. The delegation was accompanied by ASF project coordinator Stijn Denayer and human rights lawyer Valentina Azarov.

Their report "Enforcing Housing Rights: the case of Sheikh Jarrah" examines the Palestinian housing rights crisis in East Jerusalem, Israel's breaches of international law as an occupying power, the inequalities faced by Palestinians before the Israeli Courts, law enforcement failures and breaches of international law in carrying out evictions. It contains recommendations to Israel, the UN and international community, the European Union and the UK government.

Recommendations to the UK government are:

- To declare publicly that it will use its influence and all available mechanisms within the EU to ensure that the EU acts upon the recommendations set out immediately above.

- To ensure that senior UK officials observe court hearings concerning Sheikh Jarrah, and visit Sheikh Jarrah; and join high-level groups from the EU.

- To continue and if possible intensify the present policy of providing all possible support to the Sheikh Jarrah families.

- To give urgent and public consideration to the question how it can best comply with the obligations laid upon it (and all other states) by the International Court of Justice in 2004:

- All States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction;

- All States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 have in addition the obligation, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.

- In particular, to take steps to implement the recommendation by Amnesty International in 2009 that the UK government should “suspend all military exports to Israel until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used for serious violations of human rights.

The views contained in the report and the recommendations are those of the delegation.

Download full report here ( 6.7MB )

Promises and Challenges: The Tunisian Revolution of 2010-2011

The Report of the March 2011 Delegation of Attorneys to Tunisia.

In March 2011 three members of the Haldane's executive committee joined colleagues from America and Turkey in an international human rights delegation to Tunisia. Co-chairs Katherine Craig and Anna Morris travelled to Tunis with Russell Fraser where they spent five days meeting with politicians, trade unionists, bloggers and democracy campaigners. The delegation heard evidence of state torture and corruption. During the Ben Ali years a culture of impunity reigned, a feature common to dictatorships across the world. Another feature common to such regimes is the interference of Western governments in furtherance of imperial desires. Tunisia is no different and has experienced French and US meddling in its internal affairs in its recent history.

The group has produced a report on its activities, those they met, and recommendation for the future which can be downloaded here.

The False Economy of Legal Aid Cuts

Haldane Society and Young Legal Aid Lawyers release independent report arguing that cutting legal aid is "a false economy" ahead of expected government announcement on legal aid reforms.

A panel of independent experts have concluded that cutting legal aid will not bring the savings to Government spending that Ken Clarke hopes.

" UNEQUAL BEFORE THE LAW? THE FUTURE OF LEGAL AID " sets out the findings of a 'Commission of Inquiry into Legal Aid'. The Commission comprises Evan Harris, former Liberal Democrat MP, Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of the trade union Unite, and the Reverend Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, until recently the canon of Westminster Abbey. These three non-partisan and independent-minded experts, each with a long track record of promoting social justice, considered the cases both for and against legal aid.

Their purpose was to consider objectively, at a time of cuts to public spending including proposals to remove £350 million from the £2.1 billion legal aid budget (see over), the value of the safety net which our legal aid system provides for the ordinary people, sometimes poor and usually vulnerable, who rely upon it.

'Without legal aid I would not have been able to get the help I needed. I would have either been forced back into an abusive relationship or had to move to a refuge with my two children.' SH, written evidence to the Commission of Inquiry into legal aid

On February 2 the Commission took part in a live session at the House of Commons and heard from ordinary people who had received help under the legal aid scheme including the victims of domestic abuse (such as "SH"), destitute asylum seekers, individuals with mental health problems and those who had experienced debt and homelessness.

EP described how legal aid helped her escape her abusive and domineering husband and gain custody of their children. Mrs Whitehouse expressed gratitude for the legal aid lawyers who had helped her stay in her home of nearly 50 years. The Commission heard how people facing such problems in the future may find themselves unable to obtain advice or representation if the government reforms are brought in unchanged.

During its inquiry the Commission also considered evidence from groups such as Liberty and the Child Poverty Action Group as well as submissions from a wide range of organisations (the Ministry of Justice, Policy Exchange and The Adam Smith Institute).

The Commission made seven findings (see over). Unequal before the law? publishes those findings, the individual testimonies and the submissions that they considered.

Evan Harris, Diana Holland and Reverend Nicholas Sagovsky said:

'Legal aid is vital in protecting the rights of vulnerable people...many of those who receive legal aid are among the most vulnerable in society. They include the elderly, the disabled, the abused, children and the mentally ill. They each have legal rights which they would not have been able to enforce without legal aid.'

'Legal aid is vital in upholding the rule of law...There can be no semblance of equality before the law when those who cannot afford to pay a lawyer privately go unrepresented or receive a worse kind representation than those who can.'

'Legal aid is essential to holding the state to account...It would be wrong in principle for the state to tolerate bad-decision making while at the same time removing the ability of ordinary people to hold those bodies to account for their mistakes by reducing legal aid.'

'Cutting legal aid is a false economy...When coupled with the human cost to the vulnerable and socially excluded of reducing legal aid, the panel finds these increased economic costs are unacceptable.'

Having considered the evidence the Commission made seven key findings:

  • Legal aid is vital to protecting the rights of vulnerable people;
  • Legal aid is vital to upholding the rule of law;
  • Legal aid is essential to holding the state to account;
  • Cutting legal aid is a false economy;
  • A holistic approach is needed in providing legal aid;
  • Cuts to legal aid will drive out committed lawyers; and
  • Cutting legal aid is not a fair or effective way to reduce unnecessary litigation.

Unequal before the law? The future of legal aid is published by Solicitors Journal and the research company Jures as part of the Justice Gap series. It is edited by Jon Robins. This is the third publication in the Justice Gap series.

Information about the Justice Gap series including requests for hard copies and PDFs, contact Jon Robins ( 07760 415 478).

It is available for download here.

Photos from the launch of the Legal Aid Report here

Please show your support for legal aid by supporting 38 degrees here

And sign the Sound Off for Justice petition here

Cuts to Legal Aid: Haldane's Response to the Green Paper

The Haldane Society has responded to the Ministry of Justice's consultation on cuts to legal aid. We call for an expansion of the legal aid scheme so that 80% would be financially eligible for legal aid, for better decision-maker by public bodies, and for legal aid to remain for social and welfare law and all other areas of law currently included. We warn that if legal aid is cut, only the rich will have access to justice.

Our full response can be read here

Our colleagues in Young Legal Aid Lawyers have produced a very detailed response, saying that these savage cuts will deny or delay justice.

YLAL's response can be read here

The response from the "Commission of Inquiry into the case for Legal Aid" is here