Legal aid – it’s child’s play

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Jul 07, 2017
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The winners at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards got goody bags as well as their trophies

Robert Aberman

Organisers of the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards must reckon that those working on state funded cases are all children at heart.

The “goody bags” at Wednesday evening’s gala event in the City of London (what’s legal aid? asks the chairman of the Square Mile’s law society) were stuffed with treats that would please any seven-year-old.

Or even a three-year-old, as the highlight goody was a “fidget spinner”. Parents will recognise this plastic device as a handy way of keeping the fidgeting fingers of tiny tots occupied. Perhaps the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, which organises the annual bash, reckons its members tend to get a bit bored in court.

Also in the bag was a stick of rock which read “legal aid rocks”, and several “golden tickets” of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory fame.

Those looking for adult toys (steady, ed) could have passed hours sifting through what one guest described as the “TV Edwards tat table”. The London law firm – one of the “big six” criminal law practices in the country – offered everything from plastic water pouches for keen yompers to Oyster card holders for those travelling around the capital via Underground, bus or tram, and also a selection of carrier bags. 

All items were branded with the firm’s name and bright orange logo, which will have been handy for any LAPG members who over-imbibed on the night and found themselves waking up in the cells at the City of London Police’s cop shop in Bishopsgate near by.

Lord Thomas pays tribute to the might-have-been successors

The Mansion House dinner for the judges was Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd’s last as lord chief justice – and in a sign of his popularity he was cheered to the rafters when he stood up to speak.

Lord Thomas also took the opportunity to pay tribute to two “might have been” successors: Sir Brian Leveson, the president of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, and Dame Heather Hallett, the vice-president of the criminal division of the Court of Appeal, both of whom were eliminated from the competition by the insistence of the then lord chancellor, Liz Truss, that candidates for the post must be able to serve four years. That blocked Sir Brian and Lady Justice Hallett, who will both hit the mandatory retiring age of 70 before four years would have been served.

Dame Heather, said Lord Thomas, could not be at the dinner but had “with enormous enthusiasm taken forward many tasks, but particularly the task of changing the diversity of the judiciary”.

Turning to Sir Brian, Lord Thomas said the judge had “taken on immense burdens and has made a signal contribution to the strength of the judiciary and of the law in our state and in our society. He has done so much in more ways that I could recount even if I detained you for a very long time”.

The likely successor – Sir David Lloyd Jones – was present but understandably he kept a low profile.

Bearing all at the Supreme Court

The wider public might take the view that the highest bench in the land is populated by a group of ageing, white men (and one woman), but the Supreme Court is clearly trying to appeal to a younger generation.

The court has just published “The Supreme Court – a guide for bears”, a picture-book designed to make the building and what it does more accessible to children. It is illustrated by Isobel Williams, a leading courtroom artist, and her drawings have clearly impressed the court’s top judge.

Williams’ drawings, says Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, the Supreme Court’s president, “capture the essence of these inquisitive and endearing characters”. It should be pointed out at this juncture that Lord Neuberger is referring to a fictional pair of bears who visit the court, rather than his fellow justices. “Her words,” continues Lord Neuberger, “help bring to life some of the things they get up to when the justices and staff aren’t looking.”

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