Post Office parallels, SEND and judicial review reform, and SIF takeover: your letters to the editor
Infected blood’s Post Office parallels
Reading the excellent Gazette article by Neil Hickman, ‘Post Office prosecutions follow a familiar script’ I was struck by the parallels of the experience of subpostmasters in the Horizon fiasco with that of my clients who have been victims of the infected blood scandal.
While thankfully none of this community have been convicted of a crime, they have suffered for years at the hands of government authorities due to persistent denials and dogged stonewalling, and for some the fact they contracted HIV or hepatitis as a result of their NHS treatment was akin to a prison sentence before, in some cases, premature death.
Mr Hickman says: ‘The Post Office fought tooth and nail to avoid accepting that there could be any problem with the Horizon accounting system, to the extent that the judge in the High Court, Mr Justice Fraser, remarked in exasperation that the Post Office’s approach was “the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat”.’
He also highlighted a phrase from Fraser’s judgment that ‘the Post Office… has resisted timely resolution of this group litigation whenever it can’. This resonated with me.
Lastly, he cited Charles Dickens’ reference in Bleak House to the Court of Chancery ‘giving to monied might the means abundantly of wearying out the right’. My clients can tell a similar story.
They too received paltry ex-gratia payments without the government actually admitting any liability. Our group litigation order, which seeks to nail the liability point, has been stayed while Sir Brian Langstaff conducts the Infected Blood Inquiry.
They too have waited for justice for many years and are still waiting, both for an admission that the NHS and other officials continued to allow the use of infected blood products knowing they were problematic, and for proper meaningful compensation for lives destroyed and families devastated due to government intransigence.
It is great news that the wheels of the justice system are finally turning in the direction of those wronged in the Post Office fiasco, although calls for a statutory inquiry into the saga may, in my opinion, only delay that justice given how protracted such a process can be.
In any event, I continue to hope that those in the infected blood community may receive similar recognition and justice in times to come.
Senior partner, Collins Solicitors (represents 1,500 individuals and families affected by the infected blood scandal in the 1970s and 1980s)
Judicial review reform will hit SEND
I have followed Gazette coverage of government proposals to reform the judicial review process with mounting alarm. These proposals will, if they proceed, have a disproportionate impact on children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) and their families. Children and young people with SEND rely much more heavily on decisions made by public bodies than their peers who have no special educational needs. Judicial review is a vital route of redress for them when things go wrong, as they frequently do.
As a charity that provides free and independent legally based advice to families, IPSEA’s overriding concern is that the government’s reforms should not dilute judicial review as a remedy for children and young people with SEND. Ministers should not make the enforcement of children’s legal rights to special educational provision and support any more difficult than it already is.
The system in England for supporting children and young people with SEND is widely acknowledged to be in crisis, as set out in detailed reports by the Education Select Committee, National Audit Office, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and Ofsted. All too often families have to fight for their child to get the support to which they are legally entitled.
Local authorities frequently fail to comply with their legal obligations to children and young people with SEND. Many do not understand the law, misapply it or enact local policies that do not accurately reflect their legal obligations. The result for children is that they may – for example – be unlawfully refused a school place, denied the provision set out in their education, health and care plan, or refused home-to-school transport. All of these can currently be remedied through judicial review. It is imperative that it remains available.
Chief executive, IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice), Saffron Walden
SIF takeover required
The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s website is littered with references to protection of the public, yet it proposes closing the Solicitors Indemnity Fund, a means by which members of the public with legitimate claims can obtain satisfactory redress. Instead, the SRA leaves it to pure chance whether the former solicitor sued has any assets to satisfy the claim. This is an abdication by the SRA of its responsibility.
Members of the public could go potentially uncompensated for legitimate claims; those sued will have all the stress, worry and cost of defending claims and ultimately, if the claim were successful, could be made bankrupt and become a burden on the state.
If the SRA believes all solicitors earn or have earned telephone-number salaries and so can easily settle such claims, it is living on a different planet.
I understand it is not possible for the Law Society to either take over and continue the SIF, or arrange for an independent entity to do so, so as to provide the vehicle to enable post-run-off cover to continue, as there are regulations preventing this.
Given the obvious attitude of the SRA to the SIF, I lack confidence that even if it agrees to continue the SIF, that in a few years’ time we will not be back fighting this battle again. I call on the SRA to work urgently with the Society on the rule change to allow for the creation of an independent entity to take over the SIF and its assets and liabilities so all members of the profession – retired and practising – have assurance that compensation remains available for legitimate claims.
I have raised the matter with my local MP and I would urge other solicitors to do the same.
Name and address supplied