Weekly Notes: legal news from ICLR, 11 November 2019

This week’s roundup of legal news and commentary includes pro bono heroes and election villains, some depressing prison statistics, and a pause for two minutes silence, this morning, to remember all those who gave their lives in war.

Armistice Day remembered in Lincoln’s Inn on 11 November 2019. (Photograph by Barbara Rich)

Legal Professions

Last week (4 to 8 November 2019) was Pro Bono week, returning for its 18th year to the traditional timing of the first full week of November. According to the National Pro Bono centre (based in Chancery Lane),

“Pro Bono Week is a chance to celebrate and say thank you to the legal profession for its commitment to providing free legal help to individuals and organisations who are unable to access advice and representation.”

The themes for 2019 were:

  • Changing lives through pro bono — Highlighting how legal volunteering makes a difference to the public and can even lead to changes in the law
  • Celebrating pro bono — Showcasing pro bono work and the achievements of volunteer lawyers
  • Why pro bono is good for you — Demonstrating the career value of pro bono through events which explore the benefits of pro bono in terms of impact on career development
  • New developments in pro bono — Specific areas of development and best practice in pro bono schemes

Pro Bono Week was first held in 2001. It’s endorsed by the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), who assist the pro bono sector by publishing a guide to pro bono support (PDF 8 MB), raising awareness of initiatives and areas of concern, and organising events and giving support during Pro Bono Week.

There are pro bono weeks in other jurisdictions, both civil and common law, but they don’t all take place at the same time, though most (such as that organised by the American Bar Association) are in October. See this Pro Bono Week website for more.

It’s not just for practitioners, either. Pro Bono week is a good opportunity for students to get involved, as this tweet from University of Leicester’s Pro Bono Manager, Laura Bee, shows:

Among the winners of the Advocate Bar Pro Bono Awards 2019 announced on 6 November was, for Pro Bono Innovation of the Year, The Transparency Project’s Legal Blogging Pilot. (Read more in their blog post here.) This signals a recognition that engagement in unpaid work need not be confined to advice and advocacy; public legal education, such as legal blogging, and other activities (such as law tech) could legitimately be considered pro bono work if done by lawyers on an unpaid or non-profit basis.

The awards, organised by Advocate, are sponsored by LexisNexis and others, and supported by the Bar Council. The other winners announced, at a ceremony hosted by Child & Co, were:

Junior Pro Bono Barrister of the Year (sponsored by Juriosity): Shu Shin Luh (Garden Court Chambers)

Highly commended: Sanaz Saifolahi (Goldsmith Chambers)

Pro Bono QC of the Year (sponsored by Therium Access): Anthony Metzer QC (Goldsmith Chambers)

International Pro Bono Barrister of the Year (joint winners): Jennifer Robinson (Doughty Street Chambers) and Jelia Sane (Doughty Street Chambers)

Pro Bono Chambers Professional of the Year (sponsored by the Legal Practice Management Association): Peter Campbell (Senior Practice Manager, 39 Essex Chambers) and Ben Connor (Senior Practice Manager, Landmark Chambers)

Pro Bono Chambers of the Year (sponsored by the DX): Fenners Chambers

Congratulations to all concerned.

Election

Mozilla and six other organisations, including the Open Data Institute and University of Sheffield, have sent a letter urging Facebook and Google to issue an immediate moratorium on political and issue-based advertising in the UK, to last until the conclusion of the UK Parliamentary Elections on the 12th of December. According to Mozilla,

“This moratorium would come at a watershed moment: Disinformation thrives online ahead of elections. Meanwhile, both Facebook and Google’s ad transparency tools have proven to be flawed. As a result, right now — when it matters most — UK citizens cannot trust the information they are encountering online.”

In a thread posted by CEO Jack Dorsey, Twitter has already banned political advertising during the UK election, but Facebook has resisted such calls, even refusing to fact-check party political advertising, thus allowing lies and misinformation to appear on the platform.

While lies are allowed to flourish in Facebook, truth and transparency are being suppressed in the corridors of power. That, at any rate, would be one way of looking at the refusal of the government to publish the Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russian infiltration in British politics, including in relation to the Brexit referendum. The report was to the Prime Minister on 17 October 2019. According to the Guardian,

“The committee’s chairman, Dominic Grieve, called the decision ‘jaw dropping’, saying no reason for the refusal had been given, while Labour and Scottish National party politicians accused No 10 of refusing to recognise the scale of Russian meddling. […]

Grieve said: ‘The protocols are quite clear. If the prime minister has a good reason for preventing publication he should explain to the committee what it is, and do it within 10 days of him receiving the report. If not, it should be published.’

The dossier specifically examines Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 EU referendum. Members of the committee — which meets in secret because of the sensitivity of its work — had wanted to make recommendations to introduce greater safeguards ahead of the December poll.

See also: Open Democracy, Number 10 abused its power by demanding cover-up of donors and friends of Boris in report on Russian influence.

Something else that’s been kept out of sight until after the election is the announcement by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson should face an investigation into possible criminal misconduct in relation his friendship with technology entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, who allegedly received favourable treatment due to her friendship with Johnson, including receiving large sums of public money for her technology firms. (See Guardian, Fury as decision on police inquiry into PM shelved until after election.)

If the investigation goes ahead, it will not be the first time Johnson has been accused of misconduct in public office (MIPO): previously he was accused of committing such an offence by lying about the cost of EU membership during the Brexit referendum. (See Weekly Notes, 3 June 2019.) However, the private prosecution brought by Marcus Ball was subsequently halted by the High Court: R (Johnson) v Westminster Magistrates’ Court [2019] EWHC 1709 (Admin); [2019] 2 Cr App R 30; [2019] WLR (D) 391.

Prisons

The latest figures published by the Ministry of Justice on safety in custody make for depressing reading, as Russell Webster notes in a blog post entitled Another set of worst ever prison safety figures.

Subsequent analysis of these and other figures reveals a number of what he calls “interesting trends”. These include that the prison population has remained relatively static over the last 12 months, that the total number of offenders supervised by the probation service fell by 3% in the year to June, and (depressingly) that “self-inflicted deaths increased by 19% from 283 last year to 337 in 2018/19, amounting to almost one third (31%) of everyone who died whilst on supervision by the probation service last year”. He also notes that the number of sexual offenders is falling but that extended determinate sentences continue to rise. You can read them all in 10 new criminal justice facts and figures.

Open data

The Open Data Institute (ODI), which promotes openness, as you’d expect, has openly published the first of what it calls Weeknotes. Weeknote #1 | digital twins prototyping: weeknotes and process appears on their website, with a link in their weekly email alert, The Week in Data.

As publishers of something called the Weekly Notes since 1865, with a brief interruption from 1953 to about 2014, we at ICLR are naturally flattered by the sincerity of the imitation. We might respond by calling our own email alert The Week in CaseLaw.

Recent reads

Children Act 1989 and a child’s rights thirty years later

David Burrows on the UK Human Rights Blog considers how the radical reforms of the Children Act 1989 changed the approach of the courts to children involved in litigation and the extent to which their wishes and feelings have since been taken into account as envisaged by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.

Britain’s constitution needs respect, not rewriting

Matthew Scott in Standpoint magazine, on resisting the lure of a written constitution and recent proposals for political vetting of judicial appointments to make judges more accountable.

“‘Judicial accountability’ could all too easily find its way into a populist Conservative election manifesto; and there are certainly sections of the press who are all too happy to bash the judges. Those, like the Rees-Mogg of 2018, who support the courts’ power to constrain arbitrary rule should oppose it. It is politicians who should be accountable. Judges should be independent.”

(Of course, judges should be accountable, just not to the executive or legislature, in order to preserve the separation of powers. They should be accountable to the public, hence the need for transparency and open justice.)

Rise of the algorithms

Alice Irving on the UK Human Rights Blog reports on the Public Law Project’s annual conference on judicial review trends and forecasts and discusses the use of algorithms in public sector decision-making and legal challenges to the use of algorithms in the UK.

And while we’re on the subject of algorithms… [see next item]

Dates and Deadlines

12 November 2019, 5:30pm — 9:00pm

On behalf of the Trustees of the British and Irish legal Information Institute (BAILII), the University of London is delighted to host the annual BAILII lecture on Tuesday 12 November. Following an introduction by Sir Ross Cranston, Chair of BAILII Trustees, the Rt Hon Lord Justice Sales, Justice of the Supreme Court of the UK, will deliver a lecture titled, ‘Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and the Law’.

Freshfields, Bruckhaus, Deringer , 26–28 Tudor Street, London, EC4Y 0BQ

Booking details via University of London.

13th November 2019 17:30

Middle Temple hosts another event in this series focussing on the relationship between advocates and the judiciary. Speakers are Professor Jo Delahunty QC, Mr Justice Andrew Edis and Lord Justice Baker. Moderator is barrister Mary Aspinall-Miles.

Booking details via Middle Temple.

Tweet of the Week

is from the Master of Charterhouse, and concerns a book we hope to be able to review soon.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and thanks for the tweets and blogs and links to content from which this post was derived.

This post was written by Paul Magrath, Head of Product Development and Online Content. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of ICLR as an organisation.

The ICLR publishes The Law Reports, The Weekly Law Reports and other specialist titles. Set up by members of the judiciary and legal profession in 1865.