Legal Aid Uk Essay Competition

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‘We will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.’
The Magna Carta, 1215

‘… in the determination of his civil rights and obligations…everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.’
European Convention of Human Rights, Article 6(1)

With the advent of the welfare state, the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 created a funding scheme to facilitate access to our legal system; the original means test offered eligibility to 80{3234d8c1bc8391a7e63ebaf7e32c90a4a5b2a92b92485c9509211683c01cefb1} of the population, but over time legal aid has become the ill-favoured sibling of other branches of the welfare state and eligibility dropped to only 29{3234d8c1bc8391a7e63ebaf7e32c90a4a5b2a92b92485c9509211683c01cefb1} by 2007, writes Jennifer Blair.

  • The Graham Turnbull Essay Competition 2013: The Law Society’s human rights committee runs an annual human rights essay competition for law students across England and Wales. Graham Turnbull was an English solicitor, who did much to promote respect for human rights. Graham was killed in February 1997, aged 37, while working as a human rights monitor on the United Nations Human Rights Mission in Rwanda. The committee founded the competition in 1998 to honour Graham’s commitment to human rights. It aims to encourage awareness and knowledge of international human rights issues and remedies among young lawyers.
  • The topic for the competition in 2012 was: ‘In view of the scope and extent of civil legal aid cuts, is the UK in breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights?’
  • The essay competition was open to all students from around the world who were less than three years’ qualified. Six essays were shortlisted and the winner and runner-up were chosen by Roger Smith OBE, former Director of JUSTICE.
  • Niall Coghlan was the winner and was awarded a prize of £500 from the Graham Turnbull Memorial Fund; the runner-up was Jennifer Blair who was awarded book tokens to the value of £250 (donated by LexisNexis Butterworths0 and Petras Borisovas won a new award of £100, sponsored by the Human Rights & Equality Consultancy, to recognise creativity.
  • Below is Jennifer’s essay. We ran Niall Coghlan’s essay HERE.

In 2013 the vast cuts set out in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) will cause an unmatched diminution to the public funding available for access to legal help, advice and representation.

In my view LASPO is broadly compliant with Article 6(1) of the European Convention, which affords a wide margin of appreciation to how states ensure access to the courts. However, I believe aspects of the changes are extremely problematic and there are likely to be specific cases which, on the right facts, will show that the provisions of LASPO provide inadequate protection for our obligations under the Convention.

Below I will explore the approach taken by the courts to legal aid in civil cases under Article 6(1), how this relates to LASPO and impact of the changes on other articles of the Convention.

No right to legal aid in civil cases
Article 6(3)(c) of the convention includes provision for legal aid for defendants in criminal proceedings; no equivalent provision is made in 6(1) and so there is no general ECHR right to legal aid in civil proceedings. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has been prepared to find that the absence of legal aid can cause a trial to be unfair on the facts of specific cases on the basis that the Convention is intended to guarantee not rights that are theoretical or illusory but rights that are practical and effective (Airey v Ireland Series A, No.32,(1979-80) 2EHRR305; para 24)

These factors were recently summarized in the European Court of Justice case Deb Deutsche Energiehandels und Beratungsgesellschaft MBH v Bundesrepublik Deutschland [2011]2CMLR21. Here the Court concluded that states have a wide margin of appreciation in how they ensure fair access to courts and so it is possible for a state to impose conditions on grants of legal aid and have a legitimate assessment process (such as the means/merits tests that has been employed in the UK), which should not undermine the essence of a Convention right, should pursue a legitimate aim, should be proportionate and must not be arbitrary.

When a court is examining the fairness of a case it will need to consider – among other things – the subject-matter of the litigation (e.g., does it include another convention right), prospects of success, importance of what is at stake for the party, complexity of the law and procedure and a party’s capacity to represent themselves effectively (e.g., perhaps due to level of education, the emotional impact of the case or challenges due to disability).

LASPO and Fair Trial
The principles identified above mean the UK is entitled to set qualifying criteria for access to legal aid (as through LASPO, section 9) and in general is even permitted to restrict legal aid from certain legal practice areas (LASPO, Schedule 1).However, even where a blanket ban for a type of case would generally be justifiable, in an exceptional case the ECtHR can require access to legal aid to be available to meet obligations under Article 6.1.

LASPO takes on board the emphasis on exceptional cases in ECHR case law in section 10 of the Act by giving the director the power to make an exceptional case determination to grant legal aid to prevent a breach of ECHR or enforceable EU treaty rights.

LASPO, schedule 1 part 2, outlines cases that will be excluded from legal aid, including nearly all tort cases. Generally in these areas it seems likely that either alternative routes to access the courts may be availablein the form of conditional fee agreements (looked at in part 2 of LASPO) and/or the government would seek to justify this restriction on the basis of the margin of appreciation, with separate provision made for ‘exceptional cases’ by section 10.

Legal aid to pay for representation is excluded under LASPO except for in the courts set out schedule 1 part 3, which are in the main only courts where it may be expected that clients will face complex procedure and law (e.g., primarily the High Court and above and in some circumstances the upper tribunal). While this may make it more difficult for clients who will have to represent themselves in the first instance and may lead to some harsh results, Article 6(1) does not provide for a total equality of arms, particularly in cases which revolve primarily round questions of fact, and so again, in general, this restriction seems unlikely to breach the ECHR (Pine v Law Society (2001)WL1171930).

Even so, it should be borne in mind that the ECtHR does not consider cases ‘in general’, but on the particular facts of individual cases and it is possible to foresee problematic cases excluded from legal aid where a client would not be able to effectively present their case. Many such cases will relate to significant civil rights and responsibilities, to property, livelihood or education, and are likely to be far from rare, for example:

  • LASPO retains legal aid for alleged victims of abuse/domestic violence, but not for alleged perpetrators creating a serious risk of inappropriate cross examination of a victim, including a child victim, by a perpetrator, which could render a trial unfair due to the intimidation of a witness or unfair emotional pressure unlikely to produce best evidence.
  • LASPO retains barely any legal aid for family cases and so there would be no support for the enforcement of a consent order even though such an order might have a major impact on legal and family rights.
  • There will be no legal aid for personal injury cases, which can include extremely complex expert evidence, and it can be very difficult for defendants in such cases to obtain a CFA.
  • There will usually be no funding for employment cases, even at the appeal stage, no matter how complex the case or severe the impact on the individual; this may have a chilling impact on employment discrimination cases.

On this basis, litigation around Article 6.1 is likely to focus on the efficacy of the s.10 provision for exceptional case determinations. This ‘power’ will need to be exercised sensitively, promptly (very promptly in urgent cases, such as housing cases experiencing severe nuisance) and proportionally. It must also be possible for individuals to actually access s.10 and without any legal aid for the application for an exceptional determination this final safeguard may fail many. It remains to be seen if the implementation of s.10 will be up to the challenge of providing a practical and effective safeguard of the ECHR.

An arbitrary system?
For a legal aid system to be accepted by the ECtHR its selection process must be procedurally fair.The Joint Committee on Human Rights has raised concerns that suggest the new system will not be sufficiently robust to claims of arbitrary interference with Article 6(1). The Committee has highlighted that the lack of independence of the ‘Director’ from the Lord Chancellor may lead to conflicts of interest in public law cases.

Of more concern, however, is the Committee’s unease regarding the lack of any right of appeal against a determination from the Director on whether a person qualifies for legal aid.While a challenge by way of judicial review would be available, this would be a review not appeal and it may be that the ECtHR would not see this as a sufficient safeguard to Convention rights.

LASPO and other human rights
Legal aid is a bulwark for fundamental rights; our courts are bound to uphold the ECHR and so it is through litigation that Convention rights find some degree of even horizontal protection. While LASPO makes provision for litigation explicitly against a public authority for breach of a Convention right,no similar provision is made for other civil litigation. When a trial includes examination of Convention rights, the margin of appreciation on access to the law can be much narrower, for example in relation to care proceedings or other pressing Article 8 issues.

People unable to put their case properly in earlier proceedings will be in the ridiculous position of having to wait until a Convention right has been breached to seek justice. If another forum (such as criminal law) is available to protect rights, there may not be a breach of obligations under the Convention,but in many situations no other remedy will be available or the most appropriate remedy will be civil. Arguably restricting the protection of cases that involve Convention rights breaches Article 13 ECHR – the right to an effective remedy – and Article 14, since economically disadvantaged clients would be discriminated against.

Below are some key examples of areas where LASPO does not offer sufficient initial protection for the UK’s obligations under the ECHR:

  • The definition of domestic violence in LASPO is narrower than the Home Office definition which means many victims of domestic violence may be effectively barred from litigation, including for emergency injunctions. This is likely to breach positive obligations under Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition against inhuman and degrading treatment).
  • The removal of asylum support cases from the scope of legal aid may result in forced destitution amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment in breach of Article 3.
  • No legal aid for strong welfare benefits claims relating to a person’s sole source of income could breach Article 3, particularly alongside Article 14 if a disabled person faced additional barriers.
  • Relevant cases concerning foreign national prisoners, deportation and family reunion may not be safeguarded against unlawful interference with Article 8, when many migrants have strong ties to the UK, but may face additional barriers to legal access, such as language barriers.
  • The high number of education/SEN cases where clients will fall above the income threshold for legal aid, but still not be able to afford legal advice could breach Article 8, particularly alongside Article 14 since so many cases involve disabled children.

In conclusion, LASPO shows an awareness of international human rights jurisprudence, but it lacks sufficient rigour and disregards the infinite complexity that can arise in practice. It is also important to bear in mind that the ECHR merely provides us with a bottom line of fundamental rights; we need not stop there. The UK has a robust legal system and that the protection of the rule of law provided for internationally is mirrored at the heart of the British Constitution. It is something we must fight to maintain at its highest. As A.V. Dicey wrote in 1885, the rule of law means that ‘everyone is equal before the law regardless of social, economic or political status’.

Author: Jon Robins

Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon’s books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council’s journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year’s Criminal Justice Alliance’s journalism award

Feeling like a winner?

There are lots of opportunities to try out your writing expertise throughout the year...sometimes for money (oh and prestige and worldwide fame of course...).

Times Law Award

The biggest of these is The Times Law Award; an annual award of £3500 for a 1000 word essay on a given topic.

Details of the 2015 competition are available via both The Times and One Essex Court.

2014 saw first and third place taken by current City students, with second awarded to a BPTC alumnus. George White (1st) and Lara Hassell (3rd) are both BPTC students (Lara completed the GDL last year) and James Beeton (2nd), a BPTC alumnus. The 2014 essay question was Morality versus legality: when is war justified?. All winning essays can be found online, and the news story on the City website.

In 2013 City GDL students secured first and second place in the competition. Andrew Lomas won overall, with Lara Hassell taking second prize with their essays on Privacy and the press: Is state regulation in the public interest? A detailed account of Andrew and Lara's success can be found via the City website.

in 2012 both first and second prizes, as well as two runners-up prizes were won by lawyers with links to City. The title of the essay was as topical as ever: Cameras in court: justice's loss or gain? First prize was taken by James Potts, City GDL and BPTC alumni and now pupil barrister at 4-5 Grays Inn Square. Read James' essay. Second prize was taken by Thomas Coates, then a City GDL student. Read Thomas's essay.

In 2011 first prize was won by Anthony Pavlovich, from City's Graduate Diploma in Law course. Anthony addressed the question Justice under the axe: can the Government's cuts be fair?

In 2010 first prize was won by a City GDL student, Anita Davies, (who went on to take the BPTC with us). Anita addressed the question: Supreme Court UK: radical change or business as usual? This very prestigious award usually has a judging panel of gravitas; this one included Jack Straw; Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the President of the Supreme Court; Lord Grabiner; James Harding, Editor of The Times and David Cavender, QC, of One Essex Court.

Anita's winning essay, described by Jack Straw as "an engaging, erudite piece of prose". can be seen on the One Essex Court website.

In 2006, Amy Rogers, another City GDL student won the award with her essay on Terrorism v human rights: Where do you draw the line?,Sarah Love (City GDL), won joint first prize in 2005 with The shape of things to come? Will Clementi be good for consumers but bad for lawyers?, James Brilliant (City BVC) won it in 2004 with Constitutional reform: will the justice system benefit?Mathew Guillick (City GDL) in 2002 with International terrorists: what role should the law play? and finally in 2001, Jonathan Davey(City GDL) with Ethical dilemmas who should decide - lawyers, scientists or God?. Not a bad record eh?

All previous prize winners (including runner-ups) of The Times Award can be found on the One Essex Court site, who the awards are held in association with.

The Graham Turnbull Memorial International Human Rights Essay Competition

An annual competition named after Graham Turnbull, an English solicitor who did much to promote respect for human rights. Graham was killed in 1997, working as a human rights monitor on the United Nations Human Rights Mission in Rwanda.

Open to law students, trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and all solicitors/barristers within 3 years of admission/call.

The competition asks for essays of no more than 2000 words in length and awards the winner of this prestigious award £500 from the Graham Turnbull Memorial Fund.

The winner for 2013 was Niall Coghlan, a GDL student from City, and you can view his essay along with those of other shortlisted candidates (including runner-up and fellow City alumnus Jennifer Blair) via the Law Society website Entries from earlier years can also be found via the website.

The deadline for this year's competition is 13th February 2015, with entrants asked to tackle the following question:

"The roots of many of our basic rights go back to the Magna Carta whose 800th Anniversary is being celebrated in 2015. Given this important legacy, to what extent would proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights impact on the protection of human rights in the UK and around the world?"

Bar Council Law Reform Essay

Sponsored by the Bar Council Scholarship Trust, this competition is open to students and pupils and requires entrants to write a piece of less than 3000 words proposing the case for a law reform which is desirable, practical and useful. Top prize is £4000 which could come in very handy for funding some part of your legal education.

City GDL students have won in previous years: Daisy Ricketts (2011) and Calum Docherty (2010) were both successful. Calum proposed the reform of copyright law in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Reforming Fair Dealing in English Copyright Law and Daisy with Strengthening the Rule of Law: Reforming the Scope on Parliamentary Privilege. In 2012 City student Mek Mesfin was runner-up in the CPE category and in 2013 Ross Beaton, a City GDL alumni won the overall prize. You can see all previous winners and read their essays via the Bar Council website.

Phoebe Whitlock won in the GDL category for 2016's competition with an entry entitled Rivalling Silicon Valley: The case for the reform of Software Patents. Take a look at the CityNews story about this. For the 2017 competition, GDL student Clarissa Wigoder won first prize with her essay Spare the rod: Why the law on corporal punishment needs to be reformed, and Daniel Fox was named runner-up with his piece: I hate being idle: Asylum seekers and the right to work.

Take a look at their entries (and all other winners) via the Bar Council website.

Lord Rodger Essay Prize

This annual essay prize is sponsored by OUP in association with the Statute Law Society. The competition is open to all undergraduates or those holding an undergraduate degree for less than 5 years.

Essays should cover one or more of the following topics:

- the legislative process - the use of legislation as an instrument of public policy - the drafting of legislation - the interpretation of legislation

Word count is between 5000-8000 words, and there's a prize of £1000 on offer. There is also the possibility of the winning essay being published in the Statute Law Review. Deadline for the competition is usually mid-September - find out more via the Statute Law Society website.

Please note - this competition didn't run in 2014 or 2015. We shall see if it re-emerges!

Access to Justice Foundation Student Competition

The Foundation and LawWorks run this annual competition, calling for students to write articles between 750-1000 words. Winners will receive the Student Prize and have their piece published in the New Law Journal.

The competition deadline is generally in February time. Students were asked to answer the following question for last year's competition: An understanding of the importance of pro bono and access to justice is a crucial part of any law student's education. How can this be improved?

The competition is open to both undergraduate and postgraduate law students, including LPC, BPTC and CILEx students. We'll update this once this year's competition is released but you can see last year's information via the Foundation website.

UK Supreme Court Blog Essay Competition

Launched by the UK Supreme Court Blog, in conjunction with the UK Supreme Court and the Guardian, this essay competition asked students to write essays of 1000 words in a blog-style from a choice of two topics. The 2013 competition asked students:

'Judging the constitution: what role should the UKSC play in determining the constitutional law of the UK?' or 'Rogue justice:do we need more or fewer dissenting voices in the UKSC?'

Winners got the chance to see their essay on the UKSC Blog and on the Guardian website. This was in addition to a week's work experience at Olswang LLP, an iPad mini and £250 cash. Not bad eh?

In 2013 this competition was won by City GDL student Daniel Isenberg. It did not run in 2014.

JLD Essay Competition

Open to its members, the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society, have an annual competition for those registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority. This includes LPC students and those qualified and working as paralegals.

Those wishing to enter the 2017 competition should write no more than 2000 words on the following question:

Where is the line between legitimate accountability and calling judges ‘enemies of the people’?

Deadline is 30th November 2017.

For inspiration you might like to look at the winners/runners-up for last year, where entrants had to tackle the following question:

How do you think Brexit will affect junior lawyers?

2015 winners (and their essays) are available via the JLD website.Entrants addressed the following question:

Should there ever be a case for absolute anonymity in legal proceedings, and if so, why and for whom?

Overall winner for 2015 was Anna Dannreuther, trainee solicitor and City GDL alumni. Well done Anna!

UKELA Andrew Lees Prize

Named for a former Friends of the Earth Campaign Director (Andrew Lees, a leading environmental campaigner who died unexpectedly in 1994) this prize has been going many years. You can view previous winners on the site and the winner normally receives support for travel and attendance at the UKELA annual conference as well as see your work published in their members' journal.

The deadline for submissions is usually around early April of each year.

Find out more about the competition and associated rules on the UKELA website.

  • Update* 2016 question been released: The Paris Climate Agreement is based on what countries say they will do, and not on what they must do, to avoid catastrophic climate change. It is too little, too late?

Deadline = 11 April 2016

Find out more via the website or flyer.

Five Stone Buildings Essay Competition

The Pupillage Committee of the Chambers of Henry Harrod, 5 Stone Buildings run an annual essay competition, with students asked to write up to 1500 words on a chosen topic. It didn't run last year but the 2013-14 question was as follows:

To what extent is the lack of certainty as to the remedy that will be granted in a successful proprietary estoppel claim problematic in principles and in practice?

There is usually £500 up for grabs for the winner, along with the invitation to undertake a mini pupillage at the chambers.

Generally the question appears in January, with the deadline in late April.

See the rules and more information from the last time this competition ran at the website of 5SB. Let's see what happens this year!

ARDL Marion Simmons QC Essay Competition

Annual essay competition from the Association of Regulatory and Disciplinary Lawyers. Students (undergraduates and postgraduates, trainee solicitors and pupil barristers) are asked to write no more than 3000 words on a topic. The 2014/15 title is as follows:

Has the regulation of professionals encroached too far into private life?

First prize winner takes home £2000, second prize winner £1000 and third prize £500.

Find full details of how to enter via the ADRL website.

CEPLER Student Essay Competition

The Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research at Birmingham Law School (CEPLER) launched its national law student essay writing competition in 2014. The winner (City GDL student Chris Richards) received an iPad mini and the opportunity to have their essay published on the CEPLER website as a CEPLER Working Paper. He had just 1500 words to tackle the following title: “In an age of austerity, access to justice is a luxury", and received comments like this from the judges:

"Chris' submission was a beautifully written, well-argued and original essay which all three of us chose as the best in a competitive field". (The Chief Executive of Birmingham Citizen's Advice Bureau Service)

In 2015 students were asked to tackle the following question:

"A 'brexit' would be a serious threat to London as the centre of globalised legal services. Discuss" Deadline was 19th November 2015. The winning entry can be seen via the CEPLER website.

More info and the competition rules can be found via the CEPLER website.

Want inspiration?Read Chris's winning entry via the University of Birmingham's ePapers repository.

FIDE Essay Prize

The UK Association for European Law also run an essay competition, with the winner securing a bursary to attend the biennial FIDE CONGRESS Conference, which usually takes place in May.

Last year students were asked to write no more than 2000 words (including footnotes) on the following:

Does recent case law suggest that the Court of Justice has lost its way on the issue of EU citizens' rights?

Submissions are judged by a panel from the UKAEL committee, who will award the winner registration at the conference in addition to £600 towards accommodation and travel. The winner of this prize in 2014 was Niall Coghlan, BPTC student at City, you can read his essay via the UKAEL website. Niall has had a great year for developing his European Law expertise - he was also part of the team that won the European Human Rights Moot in Strasbourg.

Commonwealth Law Student Essay Competition

This annual competition is open to all students registered on an undergraduate degree course.

The organisers the Commonwealth Legal Education Organisation (CLEO) are asking for 2500 words maximum on the following:

Can the Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on Three Branches of Government 2003 serve as an effective framework for safeguarding democracy and the rule of law in Commonwealth Countries?

Find out more and access the rules online.

Future Legal Mind Award

Launched in 2014 by the National Accident Helpline in association with Lawyer2b magazine, this competition offers £5000 towards future studies to one undergraduate and one postgraduate law student. In addition there's a work experience placement at the London or Manchester office of solicitor firm Colemans-CTTS.

Entrants need to submit an essay of up to 1000 words - the winning essays will be published in full on the Lawyer2B website.

Find out more via the National Accident Helpline website. Worth registering on the website in order to be alerted of the essay titles, once launched in early November 2015.

The 2015 winner in the postgraduate category was Lukas Hamilton-Eddy (City GDL student); by registering with Lawyer2b you can read his winning essay.

The 2016 prize was again won by a City GDL student, Tom Phillips. He wowed judges with his essay on the future of legal services for firms and consumers. You can read Tom's essay by registering with Lawyer2B via their website. Another City student, Pavlos Artemios Xagoraris also made the finalists stage. Pavlos is in the first year of his Graduate Entry LLB.

Property Bar Association Essay Competition

This competition was launched in November 2015 and asks students each year to write a 1000-word essay, with the winner taking home £1000, a copy of Megarry & Wade AND their essay published in the Estates Gazette. Watch this space (or that of the Property Bar Association...)

The question for 2017-18: 'Has leasehold has its day?' (deadline 5th January 2018 at 6pm).

Legal Cheek Journal Prize

For 2017 the focus of this competition is Cyber Crime. Legal Cheek suggest this could be through examining a story in the news, by considering key legislation — such as the Serious Crime Act 2015 — and/or exploring case law governing this area. Other related angles are also welcome. Entries can be about cyber crime anywhere in the world, and any relevant law which is applicable.

Entrants have been asked to write no more than 1000 words on the topic, with a return transatlantic flight on offer for the winner! The sponsor is BARBRI International.

Deadline 1st May 2017 - find rules and submission details via Legal Cheek.

ELSA Amicus Essay Prize

This competition asks entrants to address the following question in no more than 1500 words: “Using the landmark judgment of Soering v UK as a starting point, critically analyse the position of the European Court of Human Rights in cases concerning extradition of individuals facing death penalty in states which are not members of the Convention”

Amicus ALJ, with assistance from ELSA UK and ELSA Ireland, will compile a shortlist of essays on the recommendation of the Panel. This shortlist will be sent for consideration by the final judge and Amicus ALJ Trustee, Mark George QC, who will declare the winning essay and the runner-up essay.

First prize is a Work Experience Placement in Amicus ALJ’s London office, duration and date to be decided between both parties. Additionally, the winning essay shall be featured in the upcoming edition of the Student Comparative and European Law Review (SCELR). The author of the runner-up essay will be awarded a prize of £150 worth of OUP books or a Law Trove module, at their discretion, courtesy of Oxford University Press. Both entrants will be awarded complimentary membership of their respective ELSA national group for the upcoming term.

Find full details of the competition via the SCELR website but any questions should be directed to Deadline 7th Dec 2017.


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