Briefing Note on the Access to Justice Campaign
1. Four years ago, there were about 4,000 firms of solicitors who were entitled to offer legal assistance to those involved in the criminal justice system. In London, a surprising 40% of such firms were owned or controlled by Asian and Black lawyers. As a result of changes to the system over the last four years, the number has gone down from 4,000 to 1,600 firms. A disproportionate number of those firms that have closed have been owned by Black and Asian lawyers. The Grayling plan is to allow only 400 firms to continue. We fear that of the 75% of firms who will lose the right to practice in criminal legal aid cases, a disproportionate number will be Black and Asian owned or controlled. Such a plan will inevitably result in a diminution of competition, choice and quality of service.
2. The effect of this policy will be significant:
(a) for Black and Asian Communities: most of the small and local Asian and Black solicitors’ firms which have supported local communities in obtaining access to justice will disappear, and will be replaced by larger, centralised non-local firms who will not reflect the diversity of the existing firms or of the communities they support. It has been the small local Asian and Black firms that have taken up numerous miscarriage of justice cases, often unpaid, and who have supported their communities to protect their legal rights – these are the firms who will not win a contract to continue practicing in the legal aid arena; Imran Khan, the solicitor who represented the family of Stephen Lawrence, has stated that it is much less likely that miscarriage of justice cases will be properly dealt with once local solicitors are made redundant under the Grayling proposals; Gerry Conlon (one of the Guildford Four) has said that the lack of community lawyers and lack of choice will seriously affect miscarriage cases;
(b) for Black and Asian Lawyers: as always, it will be the Asian and Black solicitors who will be disproportionately affected by the changes and lose their firms. This will have a knock-on effect on the Asian and Black barristers they support; our view is that any fair impact assessment would recognise this statistically self-evident fact and that there can be no political or public policy justification for ignoring it;
(c) for the Judiciary: small strides have been taken in increasing the number of Judicial appointments from the pool of suitably qualified Black and Asian lawyers. The Government recognises that faith in our system of justice is strengthened if the diversity in society is be reflected in the appointment of Judges – the present policy will halt recent progress, because there will be few Black and Asian lawyers left in the pool of suitable candidates; we will be seeking assistance from the JAC in relation to some of the analysis of projected decline;
3. None of the above will be new to you – we have been here a few years ago when I was involved in a Judicial Review action against the Minister. The arguments were the same then. There is more at stake now, because the numbers of practicing solicitors has been worn down by attrition over the last 4 years;
The function at the House of Commons on the 11th June 2013 is to launch our Access to Justice Campaign. Its aim is to let the public know how Grayling’s proposals will deny or impeded access to justice for a large number of people, particularly those from black and Asian communities.
The Society of Asian Lawyers is currently investigating the possibility of legal action against the Secretary for Justice to stop the proposed plans and protect black and Asian communities’ access to justice.
Society of Asian Lawyers: Sailesh Mehta (07958 580 768); Sundeep Bhatia (07803 727534)
The Society of Asian Lawyers (SAL) is the UK´s largest independent legal society, with in excess of 1500 legal and other professional members. SAL members encompass a cross section of the legal world and include partners in high profile city firms, leading barristers and QCs, in-house counsel, high street practitioners, legal executives, trainees, pupils, students and everyone in between.
SAL was formed in 1990 and was a vision of forward thinking Asian legal professionals who wanted a voice for the Asian legal community, as well as a forum to discuss important relevant issues and developments. Moreover, they wanted to create a networking hub for like-minded individuals.
SAL is a non-political and fully independent organisation run by volunteers and receives no funding from external sources. We rely entirely on our members’ support, loyalty and profits from our events including annual ball as our main source of income and are therefore heavily reliant on the commitment and loyalty of our members to make SAL flourish.
SAL has gone from strength to strength, increasing its profile within the legal fraternity as well as within the community. SAL is involved with and continues to make representations and part take in consultations with the Legal Services Board, The Law Society, Bar Council, Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board, Judicial Appointments Commission, Amnesty International, Crown Prosecution Service, Metropolitan Police, Serious Fraud Office, Legal Services Commission, NORAD and etc. SAL has been featured in the press, including Eastern Eye, Asian Voice, The Times, The Law Society Gazette and BBC.
Today, SAL continues to be involved in high profile and far-reaching issues on behalf of its members and the wider community. For further details please visit our Projects Section.
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us using the details under the Contact Us page of this site.
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Aims and Objectives
The aims and objectives of the Society are to:
- Promote and develop the legal profession within the Asian community in the United Kingdom.
- provided legal assistance where possible to the Asian community at large or such other community as the Society shall consider from time to time to be appropriate;
- support, develop and encourage Asians within the legal profession in order to assist them in their career aspirations; and
- promote diversity and equality of opportunity for Asian lawyers within the legal profession.
- providing a forum for Asian lawyers to exchange knowledge, experience and assistance;
- providing a forum for Asian lawyers to understand new legal and business developments and requirements;
- developing and maintaining relations with the General Council of the Bar, the Law Society for England and Wales, members of the judiciary, the government and any other body that the Society considers appropriate;
- assisting in the recruitment of Asians within and into the legal profession;
- organising functions, meetings talks or other suitable initiatives that are open to members and occasionally to non members notwithstanding that some events may be open to members only;
- co-operating or working with other organisations whose interests and objectives are similar to those of the Society; or
- raising the awareness of the Society within the legal profession and without, as appropriate.