China, lawyer-free justice, and insurance: your letters to the editor

What about China?

Members of the profession are rightly enraged at the sentence recently handed down to our colleague Nasrin Sotoudeh after what passes for a ‘trial’ in Iran. However, there is an even more sinister – and less well-publicised – case involving another colleague in a far-off land that also requires our attention. This concerns the Chinese human rights lawyer Cao Shunli, who specialised in assisting victims of extra-judicial detention. 

In 2013 she was arrested at Beijing airport on her way to a training session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. She was never at liberty again. Six months after her arrest she was in a coma and connected to a ventilator. She was transferred from prison to hospital where, still under guard, she died aged 52. There are rumours that she contracted tuberculosis as a result of malnutrition inflicted during her detention. However, there are also rumours that her body bore the marks of ill-treatment. What we do know is that her relatives were not permitted to examine her body after death. 

How do we respond to this? And – as British businesses and legal firms salivating over the commercial prospects genuflect to Chinese authorities to beg ignominiously for a piece of the action – what are we going to do about it? 

Peter F. Bolwell
Hastings, Sussex

Localism Act is a lame duck

The Localism Act 2011 is into its eighth year. This was supposed to be a tool to hurry up change in local authority powers, in social housing and in solving the shortage of housing. What has come to fruition, however, is a perennial thorn in the side of social housing providers, local authorities and those regions craving the power of devolved financial capability. 

Surely those in authority owe a duty of care to act fairly to those not in authority? The purpose of the act was (among other things) to create a more fluid and flexible housing market, where housing stock could be used more effectively. However, section 154 shows a pronounced failure of fairness. Not only that, it is a cynical piece of legislation which has failed in any way to address the problem it was introduced to deal with. 

Tenants of social housing have historically enjoyed lifetime tenancies. Section 154 introduced the concept of flexible tenancies into social housing, with a minimum term of two years. Why, you may ask, is this unfair? Lifetime tenancies afford a safe place for all persons, which cannot and will not be taken away. If it is taken away, a social housing tenant is left with little if no security, protection or network.  

As it turns out, social housing providers are failing to implement flexible tenancies. L&Q Group announced last September that it was ending the use of flexible tenancies and would move some 8,500 existing fixed-term tenants onto ‘open-ended tenancies’. Its research was conducted over six years and found that tenants suffered anxiety at renewal. 

Moreover, flexible tenancies did not achieve the desired policy aim of the act, because an arbitrary renewal date did not reflect individual circumstances. In L&Q Group’s view, flexible tenancies had in fact acted as a barrier to mobility in the social housing market (a key objective of the act), and had been found to be a crude tool that has not fixed the problems they were created to address. 

Not only is section 154 of the act unfair, it is not being used by industry and the issue is presently stayed by government. Section 154 is a legacy of the culture of bedroom tax, universal credit and homelessness ignorance, which is leaving our statute books with a stonking hangover. It is a lame duck and it should go. 

Lucie Barnes
Baines Wilson, Carlisle

Lawyer-free justice

I read with despair (but no surprise) about the Ministry of Justice asking for views on how to create a lawyer-free system for low-value RTA claims. This is yet another ideologically-driven wheeze conjured up by a government which dislikes pesky lawyers and has no respect for a justice system that was once the envy of the civilised world but is now crumbling beyond repair. 

The same government would no doubt say there was no real need for lawyers (hence no need for legal aid) or, indeed, judges to deal with appeals against Department for Work and Pensions decisions on benefits.

This government has already said there is no need for lawyers to deal with immigration applications. 

In my 30 or so years as a judge, I dealt with thousands of DWP and immigration appeals. I always thought that the byzantine complexity of the rapidly changing and draconian law made lawyers necessary. Still, those in government know best.

Dr Stephen Pacey 
North Muskham, Nottinghamshire

Insure yourself

Life happens and even the best-laid plans change. I suffered a burst AVM in my cerebellum (basically a brain haemorrhage). I went to bed completely normal but woke up to spend three months, including my 30th birthday, in various hospitals.

Before the haemorrhage (and children) I was a real estate solicitor. Although I cannot practise now, I remain grateful for all the years of study. I was taught lots of the skills that I still use now.

I also had good insurance. That is something to which I never gave any thought, but having critical illness cover remains one of the best financial decisions of my life. It is vital that your loved ones know what to do – I will always be grateful to my husband for submitting an early claim (no one prompts you to think while in hospital).

The insurance money has made a huge difference to my family. After living with my in-laws (I had two small children) we bought a lovely house and, more importantly, did everything to it that I needed.

When looking at insurance policies, please consider: does it cover the illnesses I could realistically contract; does it do so for the period of time I want; and does it provide a suitable lump-sum payment. 

Claire Withnall
Braiswick, Essex