Welcome to this week’s Lawyer Portal news summary covering the legal news from the past week – 29th May – 4th June. On Saturday night shock waves of another terrorist attack on London Bridge and in Borough Market resonated throughout the country. This latest event of abhorrent extremist violence will surely dominate the headlines in the coming week. In a speech on Sunday morning, Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated the need for a more powerful attack on extremism, targeting extremist content on the internet as well as extremist activity in the real world.
The past week’s legal news stories include Donald Trump’s travel ban appeal to the US Supreme Court, the ever increasing cost of legal advice and reports of persistent gender bias within the legal profession.
Donald Trump has asked the US Supreme Court to let him go ahead with his controversial travel ban. Following successful injunction applications for the initial travel ban, the Trump administration unveiled a revised travel ban on the 6th of March 2017. Under the ban, foreign nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen were barred from entering the US for 90 days. All refugee admissions are barred for 120 days. Unlike its predecessor, the revised ban expressly excluded those with a valid US visa.
A wave of injunction applications in a number of states stopped the ban from coming into force as intended on the 16th of March 2017. After describing the ban as intolerant and discriminatory, a federal appeals court declined to reinstate the ban and the injunction on the ban was upheld.
On Thursday 1st June, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the plans to temporarily ban citizens from six mostly Muslim countries. It would take the votes of five of the nine justices to grant the government’s request, and require a finding that the government was likely to prevail on the merits of its argument, namely that the ban is a necessary means of protecting US national security.
The process of putting together a case for a hearing in the Supreme Court can take months. The Democrat judges who initially blocked the ban were heavily criticised by their Republican counterparts for overstepping the mark and interfering with the government’s legislative power. If the Supreme Court permits the ban, it will be temporary and will only give the US government 90 days to study and implement new vetting procedures.
The cost of legal services has always been a highly-debated topic but annual cuts to the legal aid budget may now be causing miscarriages of justice and preventing access to legal services. Many people are turning to pro bono groups and legal charities for help, however these organisations are becoming over-burdened. As a result many are asking non-qualified law students or so-called McKenzie friends for legal help and it is estimated that 30 per cent do not approach a lawyer at all for fear of what it might cost them.
Last year, the legal charity Transform Justice warned that there has been a “significant” rise in the number of defendants forced to forego legal representation altogether because they do not qualify for legal aid. The report warned that this is affecting the outcome of cases and has particularly serious consequences in criminal trials. The fall in legal representatives is causing lawyers to see a decline in work while courts are overburdened with the task of guiding unrepresented defendants through the court process. The problem also exists in civil cases where it is becoming increasingly common for people to get into debt trying to fund a case and some cases are collapsing altogether before they even reach trial due to lack of funding.
Increasingly costly legal advice is also affecting the reputation of lawyers. Dr Yuri Rapoport, founder of Legal Cost Finance states that lawyers’ “intention is to help, not exploit” and has argued for legal fees to be provided on credit rather than charged in advance. Ultimately, it is clear that the current position in relation to legal costs and legal aid will have to change very soon.
Sex discrimination commissioner warns gender bias is still rife in the legal profession. Kate Jenkins noted that in the 1990s women would leave top-tier firms to start families and would never return. In a speech for Raising the Bar in Melbourne, Jenkins has highlighted that while the rhetoric on gender equality has changed in 2017, the real-life discriminatory practices are still the same. Ms Jenkins has particularly blamed this gender-biased attitude for Australia’s shockingly low global equality ranking – it is 46th.
The underlying expectation that women should not return to work after having a baby, and particularly after a lengthy period of maternity leave, is putting them at a disadvantage in the workplace. Jenkins warns that successful female legal professionals are being judged for pursuing their careers despite having children while their male counterparts are celebrated for performing any fatherly duties. These engrained social norms are not being displaced by national or workplace equality policies.
Ultimately Jenkins has warned that equality in the workplace, particularly within the legal profession, is far from a problem solved. Ms Jenkins identified the importance of re-defining equality through open dialogue as the key to real change. People should not think that “bringing in initiatives to advance women is discrimination against men”. In her speech Jenkins quoted the popular phrase “equal rights for others do not mean less rights for you – it’s not pie”.