Unfortunately, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, we are unable to hold any live events. However we are planning a number of webinars – see below for more information. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with news, events and activities – just enter your email in the box at the top of the screen and hit subscribe!
An Evening with Lawyers Against Poverty – the Launch of a New Charity!
Join our launch event this autumn as we celebrate our new charity status. With our new Director and guest speakers. Watch this space for more information!
COVID-19 and its Impact on Human Rights: a discussion with Oxfam. Tuesday 21 July 2020, 1900-2030. Online webinar.
Thank you for joining our webinar Covid-19 and the Impact on Human Rights: a discussion with Oxfam. For those who couldn’t make it, please download the slides COVID-19 and Human Rights -July 2020 and you will find the recording of the webinar below.
Our webinar focussed on the forthcoming Oxfam discussion paper Covid-19 and Key Human Rights Principles in Practice, which is due for publication and will be available via our website shortly. We would encourage all interested parties to contribute to the consultation via the email address contained in that paper.
A full report on the webinar will be uploaded in due course but meanwhile we would like to thank those who contributed to the event:
Kate Cooke (barrister, Matrix Chambers), who chaired the event and also contributed to the Q&A discussion in light of her public international law practice.
Joss Saunders (General Counsel, Oxfam GB), who introduced the Oxfam discussion paper and outlined the five human rights principles to be considered in addressing the current pandemic and our response to it.
Lydia Zigomo (Regional Director, Oxfam Horn, East & Central Africa), who expanded on the human rights impacts of Covid-19 with examples from her work with communities in Africa.
Emily Blower (Trustee, Lawyers Against Poverty), who outlined the work of LAP.
The Covid-19 pandemic has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives and could also force millions into poverty. The impacts of the virus – and the response to it – are disproportionately affecting disadvantaged people across the globe.
The UN has highlighted the importance of ensuring healthcare and other measures protect the most vulnerable: older people, those with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, people deprived of their liberty, homeless people and those living in poverty.
But how do we rise to the challenge of ensuring that all peoples are afforded the fundamental rights of health and social protection in the midst of this global emergency?
How are decisions to be taken by governments and the private sector to address the immediate needs?
And are our leaders making decisions that will enable a solid path to recovery for all?
This webinar will discuss these issues as raised in the Oxfam discussion paper Covid-19 and Key Human Rights Principles in Practice and also in the context of the pandemic in Africa.
Chaired by Kate Cook of Matrix Chambers.
- Joss Saunders, General Counsel Oxfam GB
- Lydia Zigomo, Oxfam Regional Director for Horn, East and Central Africa & human rights lawyer
LAP Land Rights Group: Lawyers, Land Transactions and Human Rights. Tuesday 16 June 2020, 1900-2030. Free webinar.
LAP discussion on the impacts of agricultural investments on human rights and the responsibility of lawyers advising on such transactions.
Lawyers advising on agricultural investments have duties to advise their clients not only about the transactions in question, but also on the responsibility of business to prevent, address and mitigate any consequential human rights impacts under legal frameworks including UN guidelines, and of any potential conflict with internal ESG policy.
Our free webinar discussed key themes set out in the guide: Due diligence, tenure and agricultural investment – A guide to the dual responsibilities of private sector lawyers advising on acquisition of land and natural resource published by UNFAO (2019).
Thank you to our speakers:
- Kate Cook of Matrix Chambers, author of the 2019 FAO guide, published by the UN
- Lucy Claridge, Senior Counsel & Head of Strategic Legal Response at Forest People’s Programme
- Chris Owen, Litigation Partner at Simmons & Simmons LLP
A full report will follow shortly but meanwhile feel free to access the slides here: Land Rights ESG Event 160620.
Report on Lawyers Against Poverty and guest speakers event on 14 November 2019, 18.30-21.00 at Simmons & Simmons, One Ropemaker Street, London, EC2Y 9SS
On 14 November Lawyers Against Poverty hosted an evening of talks on the topic: How lawyers can use their legal skills in order to promote rule of law and access to justice. This discussion took place in the context of women’s rights and refugee support.
We were delighted to welcome four speakers who gave up their time to talk with us about these issues:
All of our speakers delivered engaging and fascinating talks which highlighted some horrifying statistics and the need for greater intervention. The power-point presentation can be accessed here: LAP Presentation 14.11.19 and see also below for a summary of the talks.
Co-chair of LAP Kirsty Wilson opened the evening with an introduction to Lawyers Against Poverty for those new to our network. LAP is a network of lawyers from all parts of the profession, who are committed to finding and supporting projects aimed at reducing poverty and improving lives for the vulnerable, using access to justice and rule of law. Our members give support by volunteering and also through donations to our justice fund which we use to make grants to projects in the UK and overseas. One way we utilise the law to promote legal and social change is though strategic litigation. For a relatively modest sum, key legal cases can make a real difference.
In the area of women’s rights, members will recall our support of the Mary Sunday litigation in Nigeria last year. This case created precedents around safeguarding of vulnerable individuals, the right to access to justice, the right be heard and principles of proper investigation, prosecution and compensation.
The concept of strategic litigation is relatively new in Africa but can be an effective way of bringing about social change. Our members recently made a grant to Oxfam to support the inaugural Strategic Litigation Conference in Nairobi. This conference was hugely successful and a report will come out to members shortly but meanwhile we have some photos of the event available on the power point presentation
On the subject of women’s rights, our first speakers were Tsitsi Matekaire, and Samantha Ferrell-Schweppenstedde from Equality Now. Tsitsi introduced us to the global problem of sex trafficking with some distressing figures – 72% of human trafficking victims are women and girls most of whom are trafficked for sexual exploitation. This is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise with traffickers making $99billion a year. She then described, by way of example, the situation in the coastal region of Kenya – one country where Equality Now works. 30% of children aged 12-18 have been exploited in sex tourism; 10% before the age of 12. An estimated 40,000 children are affected in this area alone (figures from UNICEF).
Samantha outlined the legal framework and described some of the challenges in using law as a means to enforce rights and afford protections using examples of cases in Kenya and Malawi. In many countries, laws conflict and penalties differ. In Kenya, Equality Now has been working with the National Council on the Administration of Justice in Kenya to try and harmonise their laws. Equality Now also works to support litigation of cases but considerable challenges exist in such endeavours including incompatible and conflicting laws, low levels of gender reporting which, once reported, is not taken seriously, compromises (eg paying off victims) and even victims being held in prison together with perpetrators.
Samantha highlighted the important role carried out by NGOs for example in providing shelters, mental health support, childcare support, victims advocates and so on. Globally, most legislation allows for provision of support to victims but the reality is that many governments simply don’t have the funding/resources to provide such support. And so Equality Now and other agencies will continue their vital work in supporting these victims and advocating for improvements in legal systems.
Our next topic was that of refugees and we were delighted to welcome back Phil Worthington, Director of European Lawyers In Lesvos to speak again about his work in refugee camps in Lesvos in Greece and how lawyers can contribute. LAP members have supported ELIL in the past through Oxfam in Greece and we continue to support Oxfam projects in that area.
Phil opened by saying that on his visit to LAP last year, he bemoaned the fact the Moria refugee camp, which has a capacity of 3,000, was struggling to manage 7,000 refugees. This year that figure has risen to 14,000 including more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors. The rise is partly a result of political change in Greece and elsewhere. He emphasised the concern that the European refugee crisis no longer has any media profile and is becoming more normalized – as if it is now accepted by Europeans that 45,000 people are waiting on the Aegean islands to go through the camps.
The legal context is that there is no state legal aid available at first instance asylum hearings – only on appeal – although Phil explained that for the majority of the last 18 months, there has been no lawyer available to assist with appeals. There are 15 lawyers for 14,000 people at the camp so most people do not see a lawyer.
Without advice, applicants can inadvertently place the wrong emphasis on their applications through cultural differences (perhaps reluctance to show weakness or complain) and lack of awareness of the legal framework thus prejudicing their chances of asylum.
ELIL works to provide this legal advice through volunteer UK and European lawyers. 75% of ELIL’s work is in provision of critical legal advice before interview. 74.5% of those advised by ELIL have been granted international protection (compared with an average of 46.5% in Greece). ELIL also works on family reunification cases, age assessments. It prioritises work with unaccompanied minors.
ELIL has worked with some 188 volunteer lawyers from 18 European countries, amassing around 39,000 volunteer hours.
Phil concluded by applauding the harnessing of solidarity and the pro bono spirit of lawyers which led to the establishment of ELIL and now to its continued work. He suggests it is the responsibility of European lawyers to support such asylum work given this crisis is happening in Europe.
On a domestic note, Ade Henderson spoke about his work coordinating the LAP refugee insight sessions which are currently running in Oxford and are currently being rolled out to London and Guildford. These workshops are designed to equip refugees with the legal knowledge to enjoy their rights as residents of the UK and their local communities. This arose out of the realization that the majority of pro bono advice available to refugees related to questioning the status of asylum seekers – in essence filling the legal aid gap in that area. But very little was available once settled status is granted.
The sessions are not designed to deliver asylum or immigration advice, but rather basic legal knowledge on topics such as housing, welfare & benefits, family, criminal and employment rights. Not all information provided is law based. Much relates to adjusting expectations of cultural and social norms. Ade gave examples around family norms and the police. For some refugees, the concept that the State has jurisdiction over the family unit, is new; as is the concept that the public can have recourse against the police if they abuse their powers.
This is an initiative that lawyers of all backgrounds can contribute to. Ade is looking at extending the offering by preparing a ‘manual’ of workshop materials and central database for student law centres and groups to access. There are challenges – one is that we are all volunteers so progress is often slow! Our aspiration is to grow and develop this project so any lawyer interested in contributing should email us.
Finally Co-Chair Richard Dyton endorsed the wish of lawyers to support, through donations, pro bono and volunteering, such causes. Anyone interested in getting involved can speak with any of the speakers or LAP people or can sign up to our mailing list via the website.
Richard also announced that we have recently made the decision to apply to register LAP as an independent charity. We have funding to enable us to appoint a director of operations and are hugely excited about this opportunity to extend and develop our work. We remain grateful to Oxfam and Joss Saunders who established LAP and will retain close links. Please keep a look out in our newsletters for more information.
Thanks again to all our speakers, our attendees and Simmons & Simmons for hosting. See you at the next event!
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond his and our control, Dominic Grieve QC was unable to speak at our event as originally advertised. We hope he will join us in early 2020.
Indigenous Leaders Listening Session: The Flourishing Diversity Series
Many thanks to all those who came along to the Flourishing Diversity Series Listening Session regarding indigenous land rights which was co-hosted by Lawyers Against Poverty and Simmons & Simmons. Watch this space for a full report.
The Flourishing Diversity Series
The Flourishing Diversity Series provided a unique opportunity to listen, learn, and communicate with indigenous leaders from across the world. Wisdom traditions might hold many of the answers to our most pressing problems concerning the climate crisis and environmental protection. This series invited the audienceyou to consider these traditions on a global-scale and reflect on what we may learn from deep-rooted wisdom. From the 8-11 September, Flourishing Diversity hosted a series of Listening events across London that build collaboration and help us to consider how to better live in harmony with the delicate systems of this planet, our only home.
Speakers: the Ashaninka and the Guarani
The Brazilian Ashaninka from Apiwtxa replanted one million trees following recovery of the previously invaded/deforested areas of their indigenous territory. But they then made an unprecedented move – with the help of donors,they purchased degraded lands inside an urban environment in a township outside their traditional lands. There, they created Yorenka Ãtame, “The Wisdom of the Forest” Centre: an agro-forestry project which led to the planting of another million trees. Yorenka Ãtame hosts indigenous and non-indigenous peoples for cultural festivals and knowledge exchanges on environmental restoration and has won the United Nation’s Human Rights Prize as well as the Equator Initiative.
Setting an example for the local Brazilians, they also sought to enrol the town’s abandoned youth, supposedly lost to drugs and petty crime, into the Centre to learn agro-forestry. This led to a Youth Association which purchased other degraded lands to donate to the association, eventually transforming the youth from former “delinquents” into agro-foresters and landowners.
Benki Pyãnko is an ambassador of a paradigm change in cultural, environmental and peace activism. His brother Moisés Piyãko is a great leader and shaman from Apiwtxa village. Together they came to share their history and learnings with the audience.
The Guarani inhabit the last remaining forest galleries of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. Their indigenous territories are on the frontline of defence against the rapacious expansion of industrial agricultural monocultures. Brazil’s Atlantic Forest has lost 92% of its forest cover but through partnerships with other Guarani, the Ashaninka and local organisations, the Guarani of Brazil are regenerating forests, replanting lost species and defending biodiverse land from industrial expansion. In 2018 they won the Newton Prize for this work.
Sophie Hunter-Cumberbatch, Benedict Cummerbatch and Livia Firth were Listeners to a fascinating discussion around these land rights issues.
Drinks for Members and Friends
Many thanks to everyone who came along to our drinks on Wednesday 10 April at Baker McKenzie to share their ideas for developing Lawyers Against Poverty and shaping our strategy over the coming year and beyond. Ph: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam.
Just Lawyers Hackathon
Just Lawyers held their second full day hackathon at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at Mansfield College, Oxford on Monday 11 March. The event was attended by new as well as current supporters across the profession – with in-house, private practice, third sector and academia all represented.
They have continued to develop their network and have created some new content for the website. Please keep an eye on the website and social media accounts for more updates.
The network is a developing resource created by and for the in-house community. Please do get him touch with them to join. They appreciate all contributions and are currently seeking new volunteers to support their work.
Making Indigenous Land Rights a Reality
On Monday 4 February, Lawyers Against Poverty hosted a discussion at Simmons & Simmons on the theme of “Making Indigenous Land Rights a Reality”. We were honoured to have Professor Alexandra Xanthaki, Research Director at Brunel Law School, and Joss Saunders, General Counsel of Oxfam GB, to lead the discussion on the struggle to realise indigenous rights and what we as lawyers can do to help.
We heard first from Alexandra, who focused on the current state of international law in the area of indigenous rights (including in relation to land). The main challenge for indigenous communities, she said, is twofold. Firstly, it is an issue of securing the right to self-determination, in practice as well as in theory. Secondly, it is an issue of securing respect for indigenous identities and their way of life and vision of society. She made it clear that indigenous peoples are agents of change and not victims and lawyers must ensure not to treat them with condescension and misunderstanding; they must help in the indigenous struggle to realise their rights (rather than seeking to set the agenda themselves).
Speaking on the value of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, Alexandra considered why it is that indigenous communities are in need of special protection. The fact is that the level of distinctiveness of indigenous peoples makes them more vulnerable than non-indigenous peoples and hence in need of special protection under international law. There is also the fact that indigenous communities have a unique understanding of their ancestral lands and do not view them merely as property. Indeed, the extraordinary and spiritual significance of land to the indigenous communities whose ancestors have occupied and tended it for centuries has been recognised by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Efforts not to recognise the rights of indigenous communities to stay on their land and continue their activities in connection with it are widespread and concerted. An argument often used by states is that, while they recognise and respect the right of indigenous communities to their land, it is necessary in order to serve the wider good that these lands are forfeited. Poorer countries will refer to imperatives of economic development in service of the wider population; richer ones indicate the need to sustain the quality of life of its non-indigenous as well as indigenous peoples. But economic development or other such arguments are inadequate on their own to justify depriving indigenous communities of rights to their land.
Alexandra went on to discuss the fact that there has been an increase in state violence against indigenous peoples. In Bangladesh in 2017, 141 indigenous human rights defenders were arrested or detained while 161 were harassed with false charges; in addition, an estimated 56 indigenous women and children were sexually or physically assaulted by mostly non-indigenous perpetrators. In Colombia, there were 45 murders of indigenous peoples as well as 122 instances of threats, 827 unjust incarcerations and 3,800 displacements. In the Philippines, there were 37 cases of extrajudicial killings and 62 of illegal arrests. With violence on the rise, Alexandra and others are working to identify the most effective means of safeguarding indigenous rights.
A major achievement in recent times has been the recognition of a standard of free, prior and informed consent. This essentially creates a right to veto for indigenous communities in circumstances where their land is directly affected by a prospective development. This, said Alexandra, is revolutionary and will assist in the struggle to safeguard the ancestral lands of indigenous communities. The rights to restitution and compensation are other tools in the arsenal available to indigenous peoples, although these can be difficult to enforce in practice (as has been the case in Kenya). Underling all of these is the principle of self-management and the need to recognise indigenous communities as the custodians of and equal stakeholders in the land.
We then heard from Joss, whose section of the discussion was focused on what we as lawyers can do to help. By way of introduction, Joss set out two cases and asked us to identify which occurred a couple of years ago and which occurred 3 millennia ago. In the first case, the ancestors of an indigenous community had lived on a certain tract of land over the course of many years. One day, an official arrived with a sheaf of documents asserting that it was the state who owned the land. The community started a campaign to keep their land and its leaders were arrested, detained and convicted for trespass. They appealed to a superior court and were able to avoid incarceration only by agreeing never again to set foot on their land.
In the second case, the ancestors of an indigenous community had lived on a certain tract of land over the course of many years. One day, an official arrived with a sheaf of documents asserting that it was the state who in fact owned the land. The course of events from there was much the same (the community leaders were arrested, detained and convicted of trespass) except that on appeal the indigenous community was able to adduce documentary evidence of ownership and consequently regained their lands. It was this case that occurred 3 millennia ago in China, showing us that indigenous peoples have struggled with much the same issues for many years indeed.
With the benefit of this introduction, Joss went on to consider several issues connected with rights to land in the world today, including the importance of communication and the crucial function of lawyers in communicating the substance of their rights to indigenous communities as well as the struggle of women to realise their rights to retain land once their husband has died. Concerning the importance of communication, Joss described a case study in India, where an indigenous community was unaware of a new law made in their favour. You can watch a video about the case here. In relation to women’s land rights, Joss referred us to a case in Uganda, where a man was intent on murdering his uncle’s wife in order to claim the land left on his death.
Joss then discussed the fact that while charities and companies are often at war with one another over the issues of indigenous rights to land, it may be the time to work together in order to create solutions that safeguard the rights of indigenous communities while meeting (some of) the (compatible) interests of multi-national corporations. By way of example, Joss mentioned the report issued regularly by Oxfam called “Behind the Brand”, which uses a number of metrics to measure a company’s compliance with ethical standards in areas such as labour, women’s and land rights. Each company is accorded a score based on its policy in relation to (for example) whether or not it is aware of the conditions under which a particular one of its supplier is using a certain area of land. This can create an incentive for companies (and indeed their competitors) to improve their policies and practices and conduct the requisite level of due diligence at all stages of the supply chain. And lawyers can help in this area by negotiating contracts that require disclosure of the conditions under which a supplier is occupying a certain area of land.
We want to thank Alexandra and Joss (as well as Richard and other expert contributors from our audience) for bringing to life an issue which is becoming a crisis on a worldwide scale. Please click here for a copy of the slides we showed on the evening and watch this space for news of more upcoming events: Making Indigenous Land Rights a Reality.
Advancing Women’s Rights Through Strategic Litigation and Other Tools
On Wednesday 28 November, Lawyers Against Poverty hosted a discussion on the tools we can use most effectively to advance and assert women’s rights.
We heard firstly from Naomi Passman, one of the members of our women’s rights working group. As an introduction, she shared with us a series of facts which made eminently clear the inequality and injustice suffered by women in the world today. By way of example, one in three women will suffer some form of domestic violence in their lifetime (and in some countries this may be as high as one in two). Gender equality, said Naomi, is more than a moral consideration; creating the conditions that enable women to thrive is necessary for sustainable development. By way of example, if every girl worldwide received 12 years of free, safe and quality education, on an equal footing with boys, lifetime earnings for women could increase by $15-30 trillion. Girls who complete secondary education become healthier and more prosperous adults, with smaller families and children who are less at risk of illness and death and are more able to contribute fully in their families, communities and societies as earners, informed mothers and agents of change. Naomi considered what we as lawyers can do as opposed to other advocates in civil society and concluded that strategic litigation can inform public opinion and create the necessary consensus for social change.
We then heard from Emily Blower, another member of our women’s rights working group, who introduced our audience to an important case supported with funding from Lawyers Against Poverty. The case was initiated against Nigeria by the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (the IHRDA) and the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre before the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (the ECOWAS Court) on behalf of a woman called Mary Sunday, who suffered severe injuries and burns after an attack by her fiancé. They argued that the failure of state authorities effectively, impartially and independently to investigate the allegations and prosecute the perpetrator, a serving police officer, constituted a violation of the victim’s rights under the African Charter and the Maputo Protocol. In May 2018, the ECOWAS Court found a violation of the right to an effective remedy under Article 7 of the African Charter and ordered compensation for Mary in the amount of 15 million Naira.
Gaye Sowe, Executive Director of the IHRDA and counsel on record in the case, was unable to attend on the night but made a video for us in which he noted that although the court awarded compensation, it remained silent on many of the arguments submitted and on the structural remedies sought, including an order for psychosocial support for Mary and other victims of domestic violence. Across other cases on which he worked, Gaye found this to be a trend: the ECOWAS Court would order reparations to compensate an individual victim but remain mute on structural remedies and the wider issues at stake in women’s rights cases. This was a significant omission, said Gaye, as the issue of violence against women cannot be resolved without addressing the structural disadvantage of women in all areas of life. Despite the challenges of mounting strategic litigation, Gaye concluded that it is an extremely important tool for securing change in the law, in policy and in social practice. It establishes valuable jurisprudence at the regional level on issues such as the connection between sexual violence and discrimination. And a judgment against a single country in a case involving an individual claimant can advance the rights of millions of women across the region.
We heard next from Meghan Campbell, Deputy Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub and Lecturer at Birmingham University Law School, who considered the value of the inquiry procedure under Article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as a means of identifying severe and widespread violations of women’s rights and remedying structural discrimination. Thus far, the Committee has carried out five inquiries, including into murdered and missing women in Mexico, murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada and the contraception ban in the Philippines, and issued significant findings. In its report on Mexico, the Committee was concerted in its efforts to emphasise the intersectional reasons for the killings in Ciudad Juárez. Poor women became ready targets as they walked to work very early in the morning, without access to any transport and entirely in the dark. These women were more vulnerable to violent crimes as a consequence of poverty and the absence of affordable public services.
According to Meghan, the inquiry procedure has several advantages in comparison with strategic litigation and other legal tools. It does not require an individual victim to initiate an action and suffer the costs (social as well as financial as violence against women is stigmatised in many societies across the world). It is not bound by time limits or rules of evidence that often make crimes against women such as assault and rape difficult to litigate. And it is focused on addressing the wider and underlying causes of structural discrimination as opposed to assessing a set of facts in one case. Due to the unenforceability of remedies recommended by the Committee, Meghan made clear that it is necessary to use the inquiry procedure strategically and alongside other forms of activism.
Finally, we heard from Laura Gyte, Campaigns Legal Adviser at Oxfam GB, who considered CEDAW in the context of poverty, economic inequality and tax avoidance. Economic inequality endangers progress on poverty: unless the poor benefit more from growth between now and 2030, the World Bank forecasts that the first Sustainable Development Goal to eliminate extreme poverty will be missed. Meanwhile UNCTAD estimates that developing countries are losing around $100bn annually as a result of multi-national corporations channelling investments through tax havens. The ramifications of tax avoidance for gender justice are substantial as the realisation of women’s rights requires funding and expenditure on public services such as education, water, electricity and transportation and health. For several years, said Laura, the CEDAW Committee has insisted that the UK is responsible for ensuring that its own transnational tax laws and those of its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories must not detract from or impair women’s rights and gender equality. The UK, therefore, can and should choose to reconfigure its policy in order to make more significant progress on women’s rights at home and around the world.
Thank you to all our members and others who came along on Wednesday; it was wonderful to share thoughts on striving for change and equality for women.
An Evening with Lawyers Against Poverty
On Monday 15 October, Lawyers Against Poverty hosted a discussion at Simmons & Simmons on the theme of what lawyers can do in aid of refugees.
We heard from Professor Alexandra Xanthaki, Research Director at Brunel Law School, who established an initiative whereby students can offer their assistance as volunteers to refugees in Athens. Alexandra showed us a video in which the students describe their time in the Eleonas Refugee Camp and in a community centre for women and children. Pro bono and voluntary work, in aid of refugees and others, is very much encouraged within the law department at Brunel – as Alexandra says, empathy and passion for justice are essential for any lawyer.
We also heard from Phil Worthington, Managing Director of European Lawyers in Lesvos, an organisation working to ensure free and independent legal advice for asylum seekers on the island of Lesvos. He conveyed very strongly the struggle for asylum seekers to understand the system they must navigate, which is complex and ever-changing. Legal aid is only available at the appeal stage (and sometimes not even then) and most will attend their asylum interviews (at which their status is determined) without seeing a lawyer first.
Jared Ficklin, Director of the University of Liverpool’s Law Clinic and a volunteer with ELIL, shared with us his account of Moria, described by the BBC as the “worst refugee camp on Earth.” He said it was not the overcrowding or squalor that created the worst feelings of despair among the inhabitants but rather the slow and entirely opaque system for seeking sanctuary. As a result, individuals who are already vulnerable and living in the camp for many months without a decision can very easily become traumatised.
Adrian Henderson, Leader of LAP’s Refugee Thematic Group, told us about the series of legal insight training sessions that Lawyers Against Poverty developed and delivered in Oxford in late 2017. The sessions were based on employment, criminal and family law and were intended to offer refugees information on their rights as residents of the UK. As a next step, Adrian is intending to create a centralised database with resources for volunteers around the country to use in order to offer the sessions in many more regions.
Kirsty and Richard introduced the new initiative we are currently working on to increase engagement with refugee rights issues and encourage collaborative action to support refugees overseas and in the UK. We want to collaborate with a network of volunteers on a range of activities to assist refugees, including working to offer legal insight training sessions to more refugees, create work experience opportunities for refugees and raise funds for European Lawyers in Lesvos and the Greek Council for Refugees.
Thank you to all members and others who came along on Monday; it was wonderful to come together and discuss what lawyers can do in aid of refugees in the world today.
The Launch of Just Lawyers at the Law Society
On 13 June 2018, Just Lawyers was launched on the first day of the Law Society’s In-House Division Conference. Our panel of speakers – Nikki Elliot (Co-Chair of Lawyers Against Poverty’s In-House Thematic Group), Mark Maurice-Jones (General Counsel at Nestlé), Claire Mortimer (Assistant Legal Adviser at the Foreign Office) and Joss Saunders (General Counsel at Oxfam GB) – chaired a series of roundtable discussions on achieving social justice as a lawyer.
Our first discussion was around creating a culture of compliance within an organisation and influencing others in our role as lawyers. We considered the need to encourage the right behaviours and communicate with openness and transparency in order to increase meaningful engagement, especially with more junior members of an organisation, and foster trust.
Our second discussion considered public perceptions of lawyers and whether or not we are seen as guarantors of justice. We discussed the fact that perceptions are changeable and will often be coloured by contemporary events or individual experience. The consensus was that more education is needed to encourage understanding at an earlier age of our role in upholding principles as imperative as the rule of law.
Our third discussion was around achieving social justice as lawyers. We discussed the fact that we can work in aid of social justice most effectively in circumstances where we are using our skills and training as lawyers. Several members of the audience told us of social justice initiatives they had developed (such as a work experience scheme for children from deprived backgrounds and a “hack” to debunk the legal barriers around using solar energy).
We were honoured to have Christina Blacklaws, the Vice President of the Law Society, announce the launch of Just Lawyers after our roundtable discussions. She spoke with much enthusiasm of the website as an empowerment tool that could help lawyers to become leaders of justice in society and as a forum in which to seek inspiration and inspire one another. Our many thanks to her and to the Law Society for hosting our launch!
Evening at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights
In May 2018, the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights hosted an evening for Junior Lawyers Against Poverty in Oxford. We heard from Kate O’Regan, Director of the Bonavero Institute, Shirley Shipman, Principal Lecturer and Programme Lead in Law at Oxford Brookes, Joss Saunders, General Counsel at Oxfam GB, Adrian Henderson, Co-Chair of Oxford Lawyers Against Poverty, and Tom Giles, Partner at Turpin and Miller. We were able to speak with some of the students who attended, including members of the Human Rights Forum at Mansfield College and the Oxford University Amnesty International Society. It was wonderful to see so much interest in the work of Lawyers Against Poverty and exchange thoughts about how we can work to engage a wider group of students committed to combatting the injustice of poverty. We hope to work together to take Junior Lawyers Against Poverty further forward in Oxford.
Drinks at Baker McKenzie
In March 2018, Lawyers Against Poverty held a drinks event at Baker McKenzie to welcome our new Co-Chairs, Kirsty Wilson and Richard Dyton. Kirsty is a Partner in the Corporate Department at Baker McKenzie and Richard is a Partner and the Head of Pro Bono at Simmons & Simmons. Together they have much experience of and enthusiasm for pro bono projects and we look forward to developing Lawyers Against Poverty with the benefit of their leadership.
Strategic Litigation in Practice
In February 2018, Oxfam organised a conference on Strategic Litigation in Practice alongside the University of Oxford Bonavero Institute of Human Rights and the Oxford Human Rights Hub to consider the opportunities and challenges around using strategic litigation as means of achieving change and to create an international community of practice of those involved with such work.
The conference included sessions on the ethics and politics of strategic litigation, the ability to achieve community empowerment through strategic litigation, defensive uses and different models of strategic litigation, the employment of extra-territorial, universal or other forms of jurisdiction and the use of regional and international fora.
Lawyers Against Poverty was able to invite Gaye Sowe, the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, with whom we are currently in collaboration on a case, to consider the commonalities and the differences in how strategic litigation has been used across the world in the context of anti-colonial struggles and contemporary geo-politics.
We hope that you will tell your colleagues and friends about Lawyers Against Poverty. Organising your own local event is a very effective way of raising awareness of the need for access to justice in developing communities. We can share useful information and materials with you and will of course answer any queries you may have. Please email us if you would like to find out more.