Revenge or Reform? A critical appraisal of the Government’s “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission”

The 2019 Conservative Party election manifesto and subsequent Queen’s speech outlined the current Government’s promises to establish a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission (‘the Commission’). Proponents of the Commission stress the need to restore public trust in our institutions following the polarisation of politics in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and the constitutional tensions which arose between government, parliament and the courts in the lead up to the 2019 general election. They argue that review of the UK constitution’s fundamentals is necessary to foreground any future reform which will purportedly update the Human Rights Act, rebalance judicial review and national security interests, and recalibrate the relationship between executive, parliament and the courts. Opponents counter that reform is not necessary - that the exceptional polarisation in British politics present before the 2019 general election has been replaced by the resumption of single-party majority rule which is able to deliver Brexit largely unimpeded, and that any exceptional period in politics should not be relied upon as justification for such generalised and wide-ranging reform. Critics additionally question whether there is sufficient evidence to conclude that judicial review and the Human Rights Act are manipulated and abused in the manner alleged. Concerns are also raised regarding the individuals charged with setting the political leadership of the Commission,

with anonymous No.10 sources briefing journalists as to the ‘shocking influence of lawyers on policy’; Attorney-General Suella Braverman’s declaration that politicians need to ‘take back control from the judiciary’; and Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, explaining the ‘need to get the judges sorted’.

This wide-ranging discussion will critically discuss, inter alia, the nature and necessity of the potential reforms which are being proposed; the impact of Covid-19 on plans for future constitutional reform; and the politics of how broader constitutional reform is discussed in the UK.

Client 6


Michael Olatokun leads the Bingham Centre's strategic area of focus on Citizenship and the Rule of Law and is the Head of Public and Youth Engagement. He is the lead instructor of 'Citizenship and the Rule of Law', an online undergraduate law course run by BIICL in collaboration with the University of London. He is also the Coordinator of 'The Rule of Law for Citizenship Education', a nationwide programme in which young people are taught about the rule of law and human rights. Read more about his work here.

Michael Olatokun, Research Fellow in Citizenship and the Rule of Law; Head of Public and Youth Engagement, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

Client 4


Professor Alison Young is the Sir David Williams Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Robinson College. She currently co-edits the UKCLA blog on constitutional law and is a trustee of The Constitution Society. Her research interests encompass all aspects of UK and EU public law, including constitutional theory and examining different means of protecting human rights. She recently jointly edited with Professor Mark Elliot and Jack Williams The UK Constitution after Miller: Brexit and Beyond. You can read more about Professor Young's work and research interests here.

Client 1


Dr Sam Fowles is a barrister at Cornerstone Barristers. He has appeared in many of the recent leading public law cases including Gina Miller v The Prime Minister [2019] UKSC 41 and The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party v ITV [2019] EWHC 3282 (Admin). Sam is a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre. You can read more about his work here.   Dr Sam Fowles, Barrister, Cornerstone Barristers; Fellow, Foreign Policy Centre.

Client 5


Meg Russell is Professor of British and Comparative Politics and Director of the Constitution Unit. She first began at UCL as a Senior Research Fellow at the Constitution Unit in August 1998. She leads the Unit's research work on parliament, and is currently a Senior Fellow with the ESRC-funded UK in a Changing Europe programme. Meg is particularly known for her work on the British House of Lords, bicameralism, and parliamentary policy influence. She has also conducted recent work on referendums, devolution, and citizens' assemblies. In the past she has written on topics including political party organisation, candidate selection, women's representation in politics and political psychology.



When Law Runs Out

This session will look at the ways in which the law in place is not sufficient to properly protect or uphold the rights of those who need it and campaigning is necessary.

Many legal aid lawyers work with clients who are fighting against a system which does not usually lean in their favour, sometimes there is nowhere left to turn within the justice system and campaigning is the only way to fight injustice or right societal wrongs.

We will hear from lawyers and legal campaigners on how campaigning and law can complement each other and why it is often necessary in the fight for justice.

Our speakers will talk to us about what makes a successful campaign and inspire us to use our own skills to improve the current situation through campaigning.

Client 5


Siobhan is a solicitor at Merseyside Law Centre. 
She is a YLAL committee member, and leads YLAL's social mobility work. 
She recently won Legal Aid Newcomer of the Year at the 2020 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards.

Client 6


Megan is a YLAL committee member and is part of the parliamentary engagement team. She is a current BPTC student at City Law School and is a future pupil barrister at 6KBW College Hill. Previously Megan was the Policy Officer at Law Centre NI in Belfast and was involved in social security campaigning.

Client 4


Matthew is the Campaigns Manager at Detention Action. He has been heavily involved in the campaign to introduce a 28-day time limit for immigration detention. He previously was Head of Campaigns at Reprieve.

Client 1


Ngaryan is Director and senior solicitor at Vauxhall Community Law Centre in North Liverpool. She previously spent 2.5 years as the Supervising Solicitor at Greater Manchester Law Centre and 11 years as Welfare Benefits Solicitor at Stephenson's Solicitors LLP where she ran their social welfare and pro bono department. Ngaryan has spent her time in the Law Centres movement campaigning for the rights of her clients. She works with groups such as Fans Supporting Foodbanks and Feeding Liverpool as well as heading campaigns within the Law Centres themselves in order to improve the situation of her clients and the local communities as well as ensure better access to justice for some of the most marginalised in our society.

Client 6


Natasha joined INQUEST as a volunteer in 2014, becoming a casework assistant the following year and a caseworker in 2016. She became interested in human rights law whilst studying law at university. Her interest in the legal process following a death in custody developed when she began following a number of individual and joint family campaigns like the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) and 4Wardeva. She is now the Grenfell Project Coordinator.



Legal Aid Quiz

Join us for a social and quiz with other attendees!

Client 5


Becky is passionate about quiz hosting, primarily because she (finally) gets to bask in that smugly superior feeling of knowing all the answers.
Her host experience has mainly revolved around fundraisers, MC gigs at weddings featuring terrible puns, and with her habit of mispronouncing nouns and speaking too quickly in her kiwi twang, you know you are in for a treat.

Client 6


Our co-host is YLAL committee member Ciara Bartlam. Ciara has succumbed to peer pressure from Becky and agreed to join in hosting the event (safety in numbers apparently). It is suspected that Ciara may have a more polished approach to quiz hosting, being a fancy barrister and all, but no guarantees.



Careers Session

Client 5


Tara is a solicitor in the civil actions department at Birnberg Peirce. Tara acts for clients in civil claims and public law challenges against state bodies. Tara also represents bereaved families at inquests where the death has occurred in state custody or following contact with a state body. Tara advises families on claims under the Human Rights Act following a death in these circumstances. Tara is passionate about access to justice and social mobility in the legal profession; she sits on the committee of Young Legal Aid Lawyers.

Client 4


Emma Trevett works at Lawstop specialising in Court of Protection, community care and education. She also works at Bristol Law Centre. She co-edited Lockdown Lawyers, an anthology of poetry written by lawyers during the pandemic, published by the Legal Action Group.

Client 6


Nutan is a barrister at 9 Bedford Row Chambers. Nutan predominantly specialises in crime and has conducted cases in the Crown Court involving firearms, violence, controlled drugs, sexual offences and offences of dishonesty. She has prosecuted and defended in Crown Court trials and also taken conduct of a full range of hearings in the Magistrates' and Youth Court.
Nutan is currently instructed by the London Fire Brigade as junior counsel assisting with a review of the evidence for Phase 2 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

Client 1


Ollie is a barrister and coordinates PLP’s EU Settlement Scheme Support Hub. He trained at PLP, with a secondment to Matrix Chambers, through a 2-year Justice First Fellowship. Before being called to the Bar, he was a researcher in comparative media law at Oxford University. He also worked on criminal justice, mental health and free speech issues at the American Civil Liberties Union and as a researcher for Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

Ollie set up a UK version of Yale Law School’s Rebellious Lawyering Conference (‘RebLaw UK’), which brings together students, activists and practitioners to discuss how law can be used as a tool for social change. He is a co-chair of Young Legal Aid Lawyers, a trustee of Southwark Law Centre and a tutor in media law at the London School of Economics.

Client 6


Syeda is passionate about helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds and her career began in 2013 as a generalist adviser with Camden Citizens Advice Bureau. Syeda was born and brought up in Bangladesh. In 2009 she started her legal studies as a mature student whilst being a single parent of two young children. Syeda completed a Solicitor’s Exempting Degree from University of Westminster and started working at London Borough of Islington while continuing her search for a training contract. In 2019 she started her training contract with Ealing Law Centre and she is due to qualify in the new year.



Social welfare law after COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities

Client 6


Sian practises as a barrister in public law matters, across the full range of legal issues encountered by adult social services, children’s services and housing departments. She has a background in immigration, asylum and EU law as well as a strong Court of Protection practice.
Sian provided legal literacy training on the Care Act 2014 in conjunction with the Association of Assistant Directors of Social Services and the Department of Health in 2015. She also provides training to local authorities and other training providers on topics which have recently included eligibility of persons from abroad for services under Housing Act 1996 and Children Act 1989, Care Act 2014 and Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Client 4


Simon is a housing law specialist at Edwards Duthie Shamash solicitors. He is co-chair of the Housing Law Practitioners’ Association and a member of the Justice Alliance. He was named Social Welfare Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award 2020 and  is a contributing author of LAG’s Legal Aid Handbook.

Client 1


Steve is a public law barrister at 39 Essex Chambers with a particular focus on the rights of children and disabled people. He is regularly instructed to act for claimants in judicial review proceeding concerning social welfare decisions, policies and legislation, including most recently in challenges to the downgrading of statutory duties owed to children and young people with SEND and children in care during the Covid-19 pandemic. Steve is a co-author of Disabled Children: A Legal Handbook (Legal Action Group) and an editor of the Community Care Law Reports. He is a past winner of the Young Barrister of the Year award at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards.

Client 5


Alison has over 20 years' experience in immigration, asylum, nationality, free movement and human rights law. She was previously appointed General Secretary, and then, Legal Director of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association. Alison conducts regular training and has published widely on immigration, asylum and nationality law, including statelessness.



Making a Difference for All: Strategic Litigation

Client 6


Rebecca is a New Zealand qualified solicitor with a background in civil litigation. In 2017 she moved to the UK to work with victims of modern slavery in the support sector. After seeing the difficulties survivors faced in accessing their support entitlements, she was drawn back to legal practice and moved to ATLEU North, the Sheffield branch of the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit. She focuses her practice on public law case work, specialising in victim identification and support challenges.  She provides advice to the sector and, in partnership with Anti-Slavery International, will be developing and delivering a training and advice program to frontline project partner organisations. She is a committee member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers and helps to coordinate its Parliamentary engagement work.

Client 4


Shu Shin is a barrister at Garden Court. Her expertise covers a broad range of subject matters including equality duties, mental health and mental capacity, health care, community care, education, housing, welfare benefits, human trafficking, immigration and asylum, and deprivation of liberty both in the context of immigration detention and the Court of Protection.

Shu Shin is committed to civil legal aid and to individuals having effective access to legal remedies. She acts predominantly for individuals and public interest groups. She is on the panel of counsel for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. She regularly undertakes advisory and consultancy work for NGOs as well as governmental and intergovernmental organisations in the UK and internationally on legal policy and draft legislation. She also regularly provides training to governmental departments, local authorities, and public interest groups in the UK and internationally.

Client 1


Zoe is a barrister at Matrix. She has a particular interest in representing vulnerable clients, including human trafficking and torture survivors and unaccompanied minors. She is regularly instructed on behalf of victims of modern slavery in judicial reviews challenging detention, deportation, certification, and aspects of NRM Policy. Zoe also accepts instructions in asylum, Article 8, deportation and family reunion appeals before the IAT and in out of hours applications for injunctive relief. She has also provided advice in a strategic challenge to a far-right group accused of disrupting rescue operations in the Mediterranean. She regularly takes on BID hearings and is strongly committed to pro bono work in this area of law.

Zoe worked in politics and law reform for five years before coming to the Bar. From 2013-2016, she was involved in issues including the application of the Human Rights Act to residential care arranged by local authorities, policy change relating to the funding of safe abortions for rape victims in armed conflict and reform of investigatory powers and defamation law. In 2012, Zoe worked for an independent commission established by the Coalition Government to investigate the case for a UK Bill of Rights. From 2010-2011, she worked in New Delhi alongside grassroots disability rights activists, towards a federal bill implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Client 5


Ayesha is a barrister at Matrix. She has extensive experience in immigration and asylum law, having worked in the field for the past 11 years. She regularly represents individuals in appeals in the First Tier and Upper Tribunal and the Court of Appeal, as well as in judicial review proceedings. She has a particular interest in children and vulnerable adults involved in the immigration and asylum process, including victims of trafficking. Ayesha is regularly instructed in judicial reviews connected to the NRM process, challenges to the support entitlements of victims of trafficking, asylum appeals with a trafficking element, and unlawful detention claims.

Ayesha also advises on nationality issues and is involved in applications and judicial reviews under the Windrush scheme.

She regularly provides expert opinions on immigration and nationality issues for Local Authorities, proceedings in the Family Courts and Extradition proceedings.

Ayesha is also experienced in representing individuals accused of English language test fraud, and individuals whose applications under the Points Based System cases are refused on the basis of tax discrepancies. She advises on sensitive cases where visas fall to be refused on mandatory and discretionary grounds under the Immigration Rules.

Ayesha regularly delivers talks and training (to legal and non-legal audiences) in all aspects of UK and EU immigration law, international refugee and human rights law, and the protection of victims of trafficking. She is involved in pro bono initiatives to assist refugees, including with Refugee Legal Support in Athens. Ayesha is a member of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association and the Bar Human Rights Committee.

Before coming to the Bar, Ayesha worked as a Caseworker at Refugee and Migrant Justice, the Senior Immigration Advisor at the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, and interned at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ecuador, where she provided legal analysis of complex issues arising in UNHCR’s Refugee Status Determinations, and wrote legal reference material for the UNHCR Protection team. She speaks Spanish to an advanced level.



Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System

The death of George Floyd in the United States has sparked protests across the world and, again, reignited discussion of structural racism in society and the criminal justice system in particular. This is not a new issue: 22 years ago, the Macpherson inquiry following the murder of Stephen Lawrence concluded that the Metropolitan Police were institutionally racist. The 2017 David Lammy Review found that BAME defendants had worse outcomes than their white counterparts at every point throughout the criminal justice system.

This panel discussion will focus on the experiences of our clients within the criminal justice system, from the disproportionate use of stop and search against BAME people, to disparity in outcomes and sentencing.

We are fortunate to be joined by inspirational junior lawyers working within both criminal law and police and prison law to discuss their experiences.

Client 3


Katie is a trainee solicitor at at GT Stewart Solicitors and Advocates. She has recently moved to the civil liberties team, having commenced her training contract in criminal defence. Prior to this, Katie spent two and a half years working as a paralegal in criminal appeals, working on appeals to the Court of Appeal and applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Katie has a particular interest in indeterminate sentences of imprisonment or detention for public protection and cases involving joint enterprise. She undertook an internship at the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge tribunals, working in the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia on an appeal of a case involving war crimes and crimes against humanity, of which a key feature was the concept of joint criminal enterprise in international law. 

Katie is one of the co-chairs of Young Legal Aid Lawyers, an organisation of junior lawyers in the legal aid sector, which campaigns for a sustainable legal aid system, access to justice and social mobility within the legal profession.

Client 6


Alexandra is a barrister at 5 St Andrew's Hill specialising in criminal and family law. She has been praised for her excellent client care, her meticulous preparation and advice. She represents clients with the utmost professionalism and proficiency.

Alexandra’s criminal practice is in the Magistrates’, Youth and Crown Courts. She has recently secured acquittals for clients charged with domestic assaults and public order offences. Alexandra has a busy criminal practice where she has gained familiarity with cell-site and other electronic evidence. She is interested in the legal issues surrounding the use and misuse of data, technology and information. Alexandra has represented a variety of clients in criminal cases charged with serious matters and specialises in young and vulnerable clients.

Alexandra’s first book, 'In Black and White: A Young Barrister's Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System’ will be released on 13 August 2020. The Secret Barrister called Alexandra’s book: "an absolute triumph; a compelling and courageous memoir forcing the legal profession to confront uncomfortable truths about race and class in our justice system. Alexandra Wilson is a bold and vital voice."

Client 1


Michael is a barrister at No.5 Chambers with a broad practice spanning: public law and human rights, actions against detaining authorities and inquests.

In the criminal justice context, he represents individuals in civil actions against the police, is an active member of the Police Action Lawyers Group and has written on issues affecting police accountability.

He represents prisoners in adjudications and hearings before the parole board. In the last year, he has succeeded in applications for judicial review on behalf of prisoners unlawfully denied oral hearings of their parole applications. He also acted for the family of a man who died at HMP Lewes following an opiate overdose. At the conclusion of the multi-day inquest, the Coroner issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report after it became apparent in evidence that the officers on duty lacked a proper understanding of the importance of Naloxone as an emergency treatment or its availability in the prison.  This was despite NICE guidelines, which made clear that all prison staff should have such knowledge.

In his education practice, he works to help prevent young people, particularly those who are already vulnerable, being drawn into the criminal justice system in the first place. With that in mind, he frequently represents children and their parents before independent panels challenging permanent exclusions decisions. Where those cases involve allegations of disability discrimination, he also acts to challenge exclusions in the First-Tier tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability).

He is a member of the steering committees for the Black Men in Law Network and the Black Barristers Network, as well as the soon-to-be-launched “Bridging the Bar."

Client 4


Anna is a criminal defence solicitor at Hodge Jones and Allen. She qualified as a solicitor in September 2017 after undertaking her training contract at a Legal 500 London firm. Since that time she has exclusively practised in criminal defence law undertaking an array of cases in the Youth, Magistrates’, Crown and High Court.

Anna regularly advises clients at the police station and represents clients in the Magistrates’ Court and Youth Court. Anna is also a member of Hodge Jones & Allen’s specialist Youth Court Team. Known for her empathetic nature and dedicated client care, Anna represents her clients’ tirelessly throughout their case.

Anna is a committee member of Legal Aid Lawyers, and campaigns for sustainable legal aid and to promote new entrants, social mobility and diversity within the legal aid sector.

Client 5


Stephanie has been fighting for justice for her twin brother, Leon Patterson, since he died in police custody in 1992. Stephanie has spent years campaigning with and on behalf of those who have lost friends and family members to police violence and negligence.



The Power of the Pen: What role can journalists play in fighting injustice?

As social welfare lawyers working to bring about justice for our clients, we underestimate at our peril the power of the press in raising public consciousness about the underlying issues. In this panel event we’ll hear from four brilliant journalists about their work exposing injustice.

We are delighted to be joined by Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman, freelance reporter Nick Wallis, Liberty Investigates journalist Mirren Gidda and Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporter and winner of the 2020 Private Eye Paul Foot Award Alexandra Heal. 

After their presentations we’ll open up the floor for questions and debate. 

Client 3


Lucie is a trainee solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors and a co-chair of Young Legal Aid Lawyers. Prior to entering law Lucie dabbled a little in the world of journalism, and once spent an incredibly hot summer interning at the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon. These days, she very occasionally writes for the Justice Gap and Legal Action Magazine, and is hoping to get back into writing properly again soon.

Client 6


Amelia is a multi-award winning Guardian journalist, and famously
uncovered the scandal of West Indian immigrants and their families being threatened
with deportation, subsequently writing ‘The Windrush Betrayal: Exposing the Hostile
Environment’. She attended Oxford University before reporting New Delhi for the
International Herald Tribune. She then moved to the Guardian, as correspondent in
Paris then Moscow, latterly becoming a feature writer for the paper. In late 2017 she
received an initial email tip-off which led to six months’ work charting the Windrush
scandal, leading ultimately to the resignation of the Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Amelia has won some of the most prestigious awards in British journalism, including
the Orwell Prize, the Paul Foot Award and the Cudlipp Award.

Client 5


Mirren is an investigative journalist at Liberty Investigates. Prior to joining Liberty, Mirren worked as the storytelling and digital media manager at the international human rights organisation The Syria Campaign, where she worked to uncover human rights abuses in Syria and tell them to a wider audience. An award-nominated journalist, she began her career as an intern at TIME magazine before taking up a place on the BBC’s Journalism Training Scheme where she was trained in television and radio reporting. From there she joined Newsweek magazine where she reported on conflict and human rights abuses from countries worldwide, securing six cover stories. Mirren then moved into documentary journalism, presenting an episode of Channel 4’s award-winning investigative series Unreported World, before studying for her MA in Terrorism, Security, and Society. Outside of Liberty, she volunteers as a visitor for people held in immigration detention.
Mirren’s focus areas at Liberty include policing and counterterrorism, and she retains an interest in the UK’s prison system.

Client 4


Nick Wallis was working as a breakfast show presenter for BBC Surrey in 2010 when a cab driver told him his pregnant wife had been sent to prison for a crime she didn’t commit. As Nick found out, she wasn’t alone. In the 15 years after it rolled out its Horizon IT accounting system the Post Office prosecuted hundreds of Subpostmasters and counter workers for theft, fraud and false accounting, criminalising and ruining people on the basis of IT evidence. Many of those convictions now appear likely to be unsafe.

Nick has spent the last ten years documenting the scandal, working in his own time to get ad hoc commissions, crowdfunding his output and eventually co-writing a Private Eye special, presenting an episode of Panorama and a ten-part series for BBC Radio 4. Earlier this year the story was described in parliament as “one of the worst disasters in public life since the contaminated blood scandal”. 

Client 1


Alexandra is an investigative reporter at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Her work for the Bureau on domestic abuse by police officers won the Private Eye Paul Foot Award 2020 and led to lawyers at the Centre for Women’s Justice submitting a nationwide "super-complaint" with police regulators. She reports with Andrew Wasley on the impacts of global industrial agriculture for the Bureau's environment strand, notably Amazon deforestation. She previously freelanced for BBC News abroad and in the UK, and for the Guardian.



Our closing keynote on Friday 21 August will feature an In Conversation, with Prof. Leslie Thomas QC and Danielle Manson. 

Client 6


Professor Leslie Thomas QC, human rights/civil liberties barrister of Garden Court Chambers. Professor of Law at Gresham College. He has been described as a 'voice for the dead'. 
For 30 years Leslie has represented the victims and families of those who have suffered or died in state custody. Leslie is featured in the cinema documentary Injustice (2001) and Who Polices the Police (2012) by Ken Fero and was legal advisor on the BBC drama Undercover.

Client 4


Danielle is a barrister at Garden Court Chambers, specialising in criminal defence. 
Prior to commencing pupillage Danielle worked at law reform charity JUSTICE as their criminal justice policy intern where her research contributed to JUSTICE’s intervention in the Supreme Court case of R (on the application of Hallam) and R (on the application of Nealon) v Secretary of State for Justice [2019] UKSC 2 in relation to the statutory provisions governing eligibility for compensation for miscarriages of justice. 
Whilst studying law at university, Danielle also managed the Innocence Project; working on a range of criminal appeals and applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (‘CCRC’). In recognition of her commitment to the project, she was nominated for the Chancellor’s Medal upon graduation and continues to sit on the CCRC’s Stakeholder Forum as an established practitioner.