Solidarity with Leigh Day - Respect the Independence of Lawyers

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers expresses its deep concern regarding the referral of Leigh Day to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.  The behaviour of senior political figures and the media in relation to this matter represents a concerted attempt to discredit Leigh Day and prevent it from effectively representing Iraqi detainees in the current legal challenge against the Ministry of Defence for torture suffered at the hands of the British military.  The Haldane Society is concerned that the Government is attempting to manipulate bodies aimed at regulating the legal profession to prevent torture victims from accessing justice and redress in the courts and more widely to escape accountability for international law violations which may have been committed in Iraq.  We also believe that the Government is utilising the allegations made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority against Leigh Day to stifle debate among the British public about potential human rights abuses committed during the Iraq war and to push through legislation which will make the Human Rights Act less accessible in the courts.

The Haldane Society is concerned that Leigh Day’s referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal was a politically motivated action for several reasons. Leigh Day was not given adequate time to respond to the allegations made against it by the Solicitors Regulation Authority regarding the firm’s conduct at the Al-Sweady Inquiry.  The Solicitors Regulation Authority asked for Leigh Day’s response to eight allegations in mid-August 2015 and, according to Leigh Day, it was agreed that the firm would have until the end of October to respond.  Ten days before Leigh Day was due to serve its response, the Solicitors Regulation Authority sent a further set of allegations and refused to allow Leigh Day extra time to answer both sets of allegations. The Solicitors Regulation Authority subsequently referred Leigh Day to the tribunal. The Haldane Society maintains that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s refusal to allow Leigh Day additional time to respond to numerous allegations against it and its hasty move to refer the firm to the Tribunal appears to be motivated not by a desire to investigate breaches of professional conduct but to block human rights claims against the Government and discredit claimants and their lawyers. 

 

Secondly, the Haldane Society believes that the Government’s shameless interference in this matter also reflects its political interest in the firm's referral to the tribunal. Comments made in the press by Conservative MPs labelling Leigh Day as ‘immoral, thieving, ambulance chasing lawyers’ is an attempt to smear and discredit the potentially genuine claims of Iraqi torture victims through undermining the work and reputation of their lawyers.  The Haldane Society believes that this is a violation of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted by the United Nations: lawyers must be free to perform their professional functions without ‘intimidation, harassment or improper interference’. The Basic Principles also state thatlawyers ‘shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions’ for any work which is undertaken in accordance with ethics and their professional duties. While the Haldane Society is unable to comment on the veracity of the allegations made against Leigh Day, we do believe that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s premature referral of the firm to the Tribunal and the Government’s venomous attacks on Leigh Day accompanied with the media’s vilification of the firm represent a violation of these Basic Principles.  Although the Government may oppose the allegations made by Iraqi civilians who claim to have been tortured by British soldiers, it is actively violating Basic Principle 18 through its demonising of Leigh Day as the claimants’ legal representatives. Leigh Day must not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions, but this is precisely what the Government is doing by interfering with this disciplinary matter and placing pressure on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to prematurely escalate the investigation into Leigh Day’s conduct. 

The Haldane Society opposes the Government’s manipulation of this matter to push through legislation which will curtail the public’s access to justice and the right to hold the Government accountable for human rights violations.  The proposed introduction of government powers to decide which claims can and cannot be brought in court against it is a violation of the rule of law and access to justice and compromises the independence of the judiciary. 

The Haldane Society opposes any form of intimidation, bullying and persecution of lawyers across the globe and extends its support to Leigh Day.  The Haldane Society opposes the government’s use of an instrument intended to regulate the legal profession to advance its political agenda and stifle political dissent. The Haldane Society stands behind Leigh Day and any other member of the legal profession challenging the government’s human rights abuses, both in the UK and internationally, and supports the vital work which lawyers do to facilitate their clients’ right to have their cases and evidence heard and tested in court.

Solidarity with Plane Stupid Activists

The Haldane Society recognises that ecological destruction is driven by capitalist, colonial, and patriarchal domination. Climate change is an urgent issue and we have little hope that the December 2015 UN climate talks - officially sponsored by multinational companies vested in fossil fuels such as EDF and Air France - will yield a globally binding agreement to dramatically reduce emissions that we need.

Our solidarity is with grassroots activists fighting for a decent future for all species. We also recognise the need for and support non violent direct action on climate change, such as the recent actions by Plane Stupid in July and in November 2015 focused on Heathrow (this included a protest on the runway at Heathrow in July and blockading tunnel at Heathrow in November).  We support the Plane Stupid defendants who have their trial scheduled for 18 - 29 January 2016 at Willesden Magistrates' Court.

Click here to find out about court solidarity dates.

Industrial Action: Monitoring the Effects

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers has campaigned for years for direct action by the profession to defend access to justice.  Direct action is currently ongoing amongst criminal law solicitors and barristers. 

It is essential that we learn the impact of the action.  Alongside grassroots campaigns and other professional bodies, the Criminal Bar Association is playing a role in organising the action.  They have set up a monitoring system to establish the impact that action is having so far.  This is set out below.

No Returns

If you returned a case due to a diary clash, we would invite you to try and follow it up, where possible, to see what became of it. Please send the information using the following form:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CBANORETURNS2015

If you have accepted a return on the 27th July or beyond, equally we would invite you to fill out the form so the action can be monitored properly . The information collected will be used simply to monitor the action and not to single people out who have chosen not to participate by accepting returns.

No legal aid order

If you are in the Crown Court and witness a defendant appearing who is not in receipt of legal aid, through the solicitors action, we would invite you to fill out the following form:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MonitoringOrders

Equally, if you are instructed in a post 1 July matter which does have a legal aid order in place, please use the same form. Again, this information is not being collected to stigmatise those who are accepting new work, but rathe to monitor just how many representation orders are being applied for.

Message of solidarity from Jeremy Corbyn MP

We were pleased to recently receive this message of support from the Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn MP.

"I offer my full support to the ongoing boycott of legal aid cases by solicitors and barristers in protest at cuts to legal aid services.

The legal profession has been driven to this by the intransigence of the government. I am very worried that legal aid could totally disappear under this Government. If this happens we will have a justice system that will only be accessible to those who can afford it.

The total savings made by cutting legal aid don't even add up to very much but are already doing so much damage to our justice system. Every legal professional in this country should stand together and get behind the boycott so that the Government are forced to rethink these illogical cuts."

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Lobby of Parliament on for the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

On 23 June 2015 there will be a lobby of Parliament at Committee Room 14 of the House of Commons for survivors and victims of child sexual abuse.  The lobby will focus in part on whistleblower protection in light of the government's consistent failure to offer any protection from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act for whistleblowers.

The Haldane Society encourages those who are affected by the issues raised to attend.

Details of the lobby can be found here. 

Public Support for Haldane VP Phil Shiner

The Haldane Society welcomes the public show of support for Phil Shiner set out in The Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-likened-to-vladimir-putin-by-leading-human-rights-lawyers-over-treatment-of-phil-shiner-10270027.html).

Haldane Society Vice President Phil Shiner has come under constant attack from the government for the work that he and his firm have done attempting to hold the government to account in many different spheres.  The public show of support from senior lawyers, published in The Indepedent, sets out that the government's attacks are an attack on the whole justice system, and the role of lawyers.

Bill Bowring, professor of law at Birkbeck College, London, International Secretary of the Haldane Society, and member of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales commented: “I think the present government attacks on him are outrageous, and would not be out of place in Putin’s Russia.”

And Dame Helena Kennedy QC, another Vice President of the Haldane Society, commented: “Free societies need lawyers like Phil Shiner...unless the state is held to account by fearless lawyers, bad conduct will be covered up and terrible injustices take place.” She added: “I would rather a dedicated determined lawyer occasionally got it wrong than see the legal profession bullied into passivity so that power can strut its stuff with impunity.”

Oppose Fracking: Support Community Resistance

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers fully supports the inspiring community resistance to fracking and extreme energy projects in the UK. As set out on the Defending Human Right Defenders website, people have the right to a healthy environment, to breathe clean air and to defend the planet from capitalist exploitation.

The government has made it clear that it has no interest in meeting the goals set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 to avoid catastrophic climate change, and has implemented a series of measures to enable fossil fuel companies to impose extreme extractive projects on unwilling communities. The most audacious of these measures include making ‘maximising economic recovery’ of oil and gas a legal obligation, and changing trespass law to allow fracking companies to drill below people’s homes without permission, as set out in the Infrastructure Act 2015.

To defend the land and their health, communities now have no choice but to take direct action to block extreme energy. An action camp is being planned by Reclaim the Power at Didcot Power Station at the end of May. Didcot still runs a gas fired plant and may use fracked gas in future. As socialists we support this social movement.

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers calls on Lancashire County Council to listen to the people of Lancashire and public health doctors  - and reject fracking company Cuadrilla’s pending application to frack in Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. 

Petition to Defend Phil Shiner

The Haldane Society is angered and alarmed by the treatment by politicians and journalists of our vice president, Professor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers.

Professor Shiner has been receiving death threats and abuse as a result of his Iraq work since 2004. However, the threats and abuse increased in May and December 2014 following hostile press coverage. This negative portrayal has been intensified by ministerial statements.

These attacks are particularly significant at a time when the government wants to denounce the Human Rights Act.  We condemn all threats to human rights lawyers. Please show your support to our vice president and to human rights litigation by signing the petition:

https://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-stop-intimidating-and-shaming-lawyers

A letter mirroring the petition has been signed by a number of high profile members of the Society and can be viewed here.