Naomi Passman is Head of European Programmes and Local Growth at the Department for Communities and Local Government, an LAP trustee and lead of LAP’s Women’s Rights Group. She spoke with our Media Volunteer Emma Pomfret about her experiences with LAP.
How did you get involved with LAP?
“It was a good few years ago. I was toying with a career change – but it was too late in my career, so I was thinking of doing voluntary work when I retire. Joss Saunders [LAP co-founder] gave a seminar at one of our government legal department away-days and we discussed what I could usefully contribute, given my particular interest in women’s rights – I’ve been volunteer chair of the management committee of a local women’s refuge for 20 years. He suggested the Women’s Rights Group.”
The group is an example of how lawyers can change society – can you expand?
“LAP members – through LAP’s Justice Fund – funded a strategic piece of litigation: the Mary Sunday case in Nigeria in 2018. It was a dreadful case of domestic abuse and the perpetrator had got away with it because he was a policeman and the police refused to investigate. And that meant this woman had no recourse.
“The case established that an NGO had the right in that legal system to bring a case on someone’s behalf. Normally you have to have some personal involvement to bring a legal case. That procedural achievement has a lot of impact on the ground. It means numerous other cases can be brought – if they get funding – and bringing cases ensures the law is properly enforced. Also, you can expose gaps, for instance the judge said the lack of investigation breached her human rights but wasn’t an act of discrimination against her as a woman. Then campaigning groups can campaign to change the law.
“Law is one of the forces in society and as lawyers it’s one of the tools we understand for trying to achieve social change.”
What next for the Women’s Rights Group?
“We’re looking at a joint project with a national domestic abuse charity. One of LAP’s most successful things are the legal literacy workshops run with refugee charities, about navigating the system in the UK. You could do something similar for women fleeing domestic abuse and living in refuges. There is quite a crossover; a significant proportion has got immigrant status in some way. Refuges are a last resort if you have no one to help. And, by definition, you normally go to a refuge a long way from where you live because you don’t want to be found by the perpetrator.
“Domestic abuse is often controlling behaviour; it is disempowering. These women may be unused to organising the practical aspects of their lives: registering with the GP; getting children into school; housing services. In theory, refuges employ staff to support them through this but they vary as to their expertise and time. So we’re developing a version of those [refugee] workshops that we can run alongside women’s refuges, where our members can give training seminars.”
What skills are useful within LAP?
“We’re not looking for people who have highly developed legal skills in the field – that would rule me out for a start. The main skills are enthusiasm and interest. And being prepared to devote a bit of time to thinking about how we can use our legal skills to address these big social issues – we aim to use our relatively small resources to do the things that have the most impact at any given time.
“LAP is designed to appeal to individuals. One of the attractions for me as a government lawyer is this focus on individuals and what they can do without having the resources of a large City firm behind them.”
What motivates you to champion social justice?
“I come from a broadly left-wing background, and I would like to be doing something to help other people. It’s a little of assuaging guilt and a little of thinking: if you’ve got certain advantages you should do something to help people less fortunate. I think my interest also stems from my experiences as a woman and as a Jew. I have never experienced egregious discrimination, but I have experienced some disadvantages or feelings of being marginalised due to those intersections and that makes me keen to address disadvantage wherever it exists.”
What role can LAP play in building a movement of lawyers for good?
“LAP has the potential to be quite a big movement… We can encourage lawyers to think about other roles they can carry out in their community. Not just in giving legal advice but the analytical skills you get from being a lawyer to look at a problem, pull it apart and identify what needs to happen to solve it are valuable in an organisation where people are recruited for very different skills. Thousands of local charities would benefit from a lawyer on there board.”