2019 is about to begin with the Navy tussling with asylum seekers in the Channel, the Brexit obsessed political class engaging in another variety of navel gazing and Mr Trump ordering concrete in order to build his wall to keep the poor and desperate out of sight.

I do not hold out much hope for politics for 2019.

However there is more than one source of power than the political: as has been aptly observed law is simply politics in pasteurised form, and the lawyers have always had some power, more than they believe they have, in order to shape things for the better.

An historical example is that of St Yves of Brittany, who you may or may not know, is the patron saint of lawyers. In English he might be called St Ives: a place name which is found, co-incidentally or not, from Cornwall to Cambridgeshire. He also was perhaps the most famous practitioner in medieval times of pro bono provision for the poor. A story from his life concerns the Widow of Tours:

Tours was near Orleans; the bishop held his court there; and Yves, while visiting the court, lodged with a certain widow. One day he found his widow-landlady in tears. Her tale was that next day she must go to court to answer to the suit of a travelling merchant who had tricked her. It seemed that two of them, lodging with her, had left in her charge a casket of valuables, while they went off on their business, but with the strict injunction that she was to deliver it up again only to the two of them jointly demanding it. That day, one of them had come back, and called for the casket, saying that his partner was detained elsewhere, and she in good faith in his story had delivered the casket to him. But then later came the other merchant demanding it, charging his partner with wronging him, and holding the widow responsible for delivering up the casket him contrary to the terms of their directions. And if she had to pay for those valuables it would ruin her. “Have no fear,” said young Yves, “I will go to court tomorrow, for you.”

When the case was called before the Judge, and the merchant charged the widow with breach of faith, “Not so,” pleaded Yves, “My client need not yet make answer to this claim. The plaintiff has not proved his case. The terms of the bailment were that the casket should be demanded by the two merchants coming together. But here is only one of them making the demand. Where is the other? Let the plaintiff produce his partner.” The judge promptly approved his plea. Whereupon the merchant, required to produce his fellow, turned pale, and would have retired. But the judge, suspecting something from his plight, ordered him to be arrested and questioned; the other merchant was also traced and brought in, and the casket was recovered; which, when opened, was found to contain nothing but old junk. In short, they had conspired to plant the casket with the widow, and then to coerce her to pay the value of the alleged contents. Thus the young advocate saved the widow from ruin, and the fame of his clever defense of the widow soon went far and wide.

An early example of how ignorance of the principles of bailment can cause someone to come a cropper.

Although I am very far from a candidate for sainthood, nor am I an advocate with the ingenuity of St Yves, I have decided to start 2019 by offering a pledge to spend 35 working hours, or one working week this year undertaking pro bono work, for those who can’t afford to pay for advice.

Conceptually I do not think that pro bono advice and representation should be required in a modern industrialised society which is well able to fund a properly functioning Legal Aid system. However there is no indication that any political party regards this as a priority problem for government to solve in the next year.

I regard it as a moral stain on our society, that whichever political party is in government poor people who are in dire straits of debt, family breakdown, facing the repossession of their home, or victims of state neglect or turpitude cannot get legal advice and representation so that the rights given to them by law can be vindicated.

As Clement Attlee observed a long time ago, when the country was in far more dire circumstances than it is today:

Charity is always apt to be accompanied by a certain complacence and condescension on the part of the benefactor, and by an expectation of gratitude by the recipient, which cuts at the root of all true friendliness. The charitable of the [Victorian] time seem to us to be smug and self-satisfied. They delighted in sermons to the poor on conventional virtues, lacking sharp self criticism….Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law such as an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipients character, and terminable at his caprice…

In particular I am interested in assisting children and students with disabilities or special educational needs with advice and representation on their appeals to the First Tier Tribunal. This has long been an area of interest to me, and it is an area where there is no state funding for advice or representation whatsoever. My other website on this area is www.specialeducationalneedsbarrister.co.uk.

I accept instructions for this sort of work through Advocate: whose website can be found here https://weareadvocate.org.uk/do-you-need-help.html and who kindly provide a screening service.


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