Team Justice Gap, probably the best team in the world
Yesterday I witnessed, and indeed was part of, something of a rare event. Over 6,000 people from organisations as diverse as Doughty Street Chambers, Allen & Overy, the Bar Pro Bono Unit, Buckinghamshire Magistrates, the College of Law, Islington Law Centre, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Unison, KPMG and Network Rail (assuming they managed to get there on time) joined the London Legal Walk to raise money for the London Legal Support Trust.
It is not often the legal profession manages to unite over anything, but on this issue it seems they are one. The money raised, around £550,000, goes to support the vital work of law centres and legal advice agencies across London and the South East.
If you were in any doubt as to the importance of the cause the list of luminaries who took part in the 10km stroll, from the Lord Chief Justice to the Attorney General with just about everyone else you can think of in between, should set you straight. If anyone had wanted to take out our justice system, yesterday would have been the day.
I went along as part of The Justice Gap team. If you haven’t come across The Justice Gap, I urge you to take a look at the website because it is aimed at real people so it’s written using normal words and proper sentences.
The name neatly sums up the problem with much of the justice system, which is that it is distant and remote to your average individual, a world populated by people, mostly white men, in strange wigs and others who use misleading or incomprehensible phrases like ‘conditional fee agreement’ or ‘habeas corpus’.
It makes a much better job of demystifying this strange environment than the SRA's consumer website, which is probably not all that surprising. It also makes a rather good job of shining a light onto areas of the law that don't always get much coverage and helping people to understand how they can enforce their rights.
The sponsored walk is probably the largest annual gathering of lawyers and judiciary in the world, which made it a rather daunting prospect given that I have been known to criticise lawyers for their their social skills. I needn’t have worried. Team Justice Gap was made up of people so magnificent I feel compelled to tell you about them.
Possibly the most exciting event of the evening, apart from managing not to buy a single drink all night, was finally meeting @LifeInCustody. This has been an ambition since I started tweeting about two years ago. She doesn’t disappoint. Commissioning editor at The Justice Gap, she’s been working at the sharp end of the criminal justice system for 31 years.
If the government genuinely wants to tackle anti-social behaviour and the problems of ‘yob culture’, it really should be talking to the likes of @LifeInCustody. Or at least following her on Twitter. As she tweeted today, the kids who continuously get into trouble need ‘intensive therapy, counselling, education and mentoring’, not being set up to fail.
It was lovely to meet @nearlylegal, a splendid tweeter and blogger who has been ‘making housing law (metaphorically) sexy since 2006’. On the whole he manages it, which is good because it is pretty fundamental when you think about it.
We all need, and have a right to, a safe place to live, but unfortunately not everyone has a home to call their own. In future, thanks to government cuts, there are likely to be many more people suffering from substandard housing, or no housing at all, struggling to get the legal help they need.
I also met, at last, the mighty @_millymoo, legal blogger extraordinaire (she will find out tomorrow if she is extraordinaire enough to win the Orwell prize for political writing) and the evil genius who brought Team Justice Gap together for the walk.
Milly is fearless and utterly unapologetic and just the sort of person ministers should have as their special adviser to ensure they understand the laws they like to mess about with so much.
The most charming person I met was @merryVW, who is working hard to become a barrister, in legal aid no less. It is slightly odd that she has wanted to do this since she was eight, but don’t let that put you off. If all barristers were as committed and principled as she is, we’d have nothing to worry about.
It was great to see the marvellous @paulbernalUK again. He lectures in IT, intellectual property and media law at the LSE and he writes fascinating, if quite worrying, blogs about the privacy, automony and human rights, with the odd poem thrown in. Don’t read his blogs if you've just bought shares in Facebook mind you.
One of the smiliest people I think I've ever met is @jezhop. He used to write illuminating blogs (with a great title, but you'll have to click to see it) from deep inside a barristers' chambers, until he became the operations director at a ‘cutting edge legal provider’ (yes, there is such a thing).
It was an utter pleasure to see the gorgeous @felicitygerry again. Top criminal barrister, media commentator and mother of three, she didn’t even start the walk until the rest of us were in the pub and did the whole 10km on her own. It is quite hard to tell if she is totally dedicated or utterly mad.
And then there was @Jules_Carey, human rights lawyer, chocolate brazils lover and with an amusing pair of suit trousers cut off ‘in protest at the savage legal aid cuts’. And walk chronicler @colmmu, director of media at the College of Law and an ‘adventurer in new media, law and education’. And @stokenewington who has her own law blog for real people, which even has a section on DIY law.
So you see, regardless of what I normally say about lawyers there are some damn fine people working in the legal sector. Furthermore, if this lot were in charge the world would be a splendid place. As it is, we managed to raise over £2,000 to help ‘keep the doors open’ of the law advice agencies as they try to manage their budgets following withdrawal of legal aid.
You can still do your bit by donating here. Go on, you know you want to.
And here is the video by the marvellous Jon Harman [vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/42695739 w=500&h=375]