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Applauding Legal Aid and Clarke Willmott’s Jess Flanagan

Our team is just back from the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards (LALYs) and our own Jess Flanagan was a finalist in the Social and Welfare section. Jess lost out to a very deserving winner and I am sure, as one of the youngest finalists in all categories, she will be back. We were told that Jess’s nomination had support from judges, experts, colleagues, opposing lawyers and of course her clients. For Jess, the compliments from her clients really count and she was touched that in the brief summary of her achievements a tribute from Jess’s first Court of Protection client was read out (you know who you are but confidentiality….).

It was striking that each of the finalists in all of the categories was prepared to go the extra mile for their clients; they were innovative and imaginative about its application and most of all they used the law to empower their clients when incredible odds were against them.

Legal Aid lawyers have been responsible for bringing cases that have truly changed lives. They have challenged large corporate and public bodies such as local authorities, hospitals and prisons, and the results have been of a much wider benefit to our most vulnerable in society: for example Mark Neary’s long battle with Hillingdon Borough Council to have his son returned home. The winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award was Elkan Abrahamson, the lawyer instructed by Anne Williamson, who persuaded the government to reopen the Hillsborough Inquest after 25 years. What more can I say?

Jess and I often act for those who may not have the capacity to litigate or to make their own decisions about their health and care needs. Unless a person is subject to a DOLS authorisation all legal aid is means tested. This means that many, especially elderly people who may own their own house or have savings above £8,000 are simply not eligible. Court proceedings are prohibitively expensive and £10,000-£20,000 would be considered reasonable for Court of Protection health and welfare proceedings. Who will be that vulnerable person’s voice in court? Jess discusses the question in her blog post “Transforming Legal Aid: restricting access to justice in the Court of Protection”.

Clarke Willmott is delighted to have been awarded Legal Aid contracts to provide community care legal advice in our Bristol and Southampton offices. This means we can give free legal advice to those who are financially eligible on community care and mental capacity matters.

Our right to a fair trial (ie any court proceedings) goes back to Magna Carta and is now enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Legal Aid budget is tiny and the UK is one of the richest nations in the world so surely we can afford to ensure that there is proper access to justice, especially for our most vulnerable. Legal Aid should be a national treasure of which we should be proud, not the pariah that it is made out to be.

If you would like to discuss any health or welfare law issues, please contact Jess Flanagan.