If human rights group Justice is to continue its work, it needs practical and financial support from the legal profession.
I recently accepted a three-year appointment as the chair of the Appeal Committee for Justice, an all-party law reform and human rights organisation established in 1957. As it prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2017, Justice needs to raise money to continue its work, and build upon its hugely impressive list of achievements.
Chaired by Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC, Justice is the ‘conscience of the legal profession’, protecting and promoting the rule of law and human rights through research, education and interventions in the courts. Justice’s interventions and reports have had many concrete results: the establishments of the Legal Ombudsman, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice were all predicted or inspired by its work.
It maintains close connections in parliament, ensuring that politicians across all parties understand the implications for good governance of proposed legislation and are mindful of our international obligations. Only recently, Justice actively participated in supporting amendments in the House of Lords, defending judicial review.
The appeal is supported by many senior members of the judiciary, including the lord chief justice and the president of the Supreme Court, plus many members of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the last three lord chief justices. Corporate patrons of the appeal include barristers’ chambers such as 3 Verulam Buildings and 39 Essex Street. Many of the country’s leading barristers are also individual patrons and provide much needed advocacy services on a pro bono basis for the many important interventions undertaken by Justice in the superior courts.
The bar and judiciary have long been dedicated supporters of Justice and, whilst some of the world’s leading law firms (such as Freshfields, and my own firm Skadden) have been extremely supportive, I am keen to encourage more solicitors to become members and friends of Justice and provide much needed financial and other support.
Many City solicitors in particular, are so busy with their daily practices, that they take for granted the hard work and resources needed to maintain access to the legal system for everyone and the importance of creating an environment supportive of the rule of law in society.
Our appeal is designed not just to raise money but to raise awareness within the profession and the broader community of the core issues with which the Justice team grapple on a daily basis. Over the next three years, Justice will present events designed to engage writers, filmmakers, actors, musicians, philosophers and social commentators in a dialogue with the judiciary and the legal profession about justice and the rule of law in the UK today.
The first series of events in the appeal is the law and literature series, in which well-known writers who have written about miscarriages of justice will read from their work and answer questions about the justice issues explored in their work.
The appeal was officially launched on Tuesday, 28 October at Inner Temple, when Booker prize-winning author Julian Barnes gave a fascinating account of how he became interested in the early 20th-century case known as the Great Wyrley Outrages and gave an inspiring reading from Arthur & George. On Thursday 4 December, Robert Harris will read from his best-selling account of the Dreyfus affair, An Officer and a Spy at Lincoln’s Inn; and double Booker prize-winning author Hilary Mantel will read from Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 at Middle Temple.
All these events are followed by a drinks reception and an opportunity to meet the authors. Tickets are £50 and all profits go to the appeal. Donors to the Justice appeal will also be able to attend private dinners with the authors afterwards. It is also a wonderful opportunity to meet many senior judges, and other distinguished patrons.
In the coming years, Justice will present its law and the movies, and its law and television series, in which actors, filmmakers and screenwriters will discuss their experiences in bringing lawyers and judges to life on the screen. Justice will also be staging law and society events which will include debates between lawyers, philosophers, political commentators and journalists about the meaning and importance of various human rights, such as the right to privacy, as well as features of our justice system like the jury system.
It is far too easy to take organisations like Justice for granted. If it is to continue its incredible work, it requires practical, financial support from the UK legal profession. Its previous appeal enabled Justice to buy its own building and turned the organisation into a real force in the 1990s. The priority now is to enhance its complement of legal staff; Justice is currently only able to employ two lawyers (plus one part time) supported by paid interns.
Despite these threadbare means, Justice has been the most frequent intervener in the Supreme Court for the last five years. Imagine what it could achieve with more resources.
We are entering a tough time for the justice system – legal aid has been cut again and there are other measures which could seriously encroach upon the ability of citizens to have access to our courts, including in the area of judicial review. We all need a strong Justice. Please join Justice and support this appeal.
Karyl Nairn QC is a partner in litigation and international arbitration at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom