PROOF MAGAZINE: The latest issue of Proof magazine is out today. It celebrates 50 years of ‘radical law’ – this year the law centre movement celebrates its half century – at a time when ministers are attacking ‘activists’, ‘do-gooders’ and ‘lefty lawyers’.
Hence our special ‘do-gooder activist’ issue which highlights the devastating double blow of Covid and austerity to those fighting to secure justice. See below for foreword from issue co-editors Sue James and Jon Robins.
The issue focuses on the victims of a broken justice system – including Eric Allison and Simon Hattenstone’s long read account of Eddie Gilfoyle’s epic battle to clear his name; journalists Fran Robertson and Melanie McFadyean report on the courts’ scandalous failure to get to grips with the scandal of joint enterprise; and Donna McLean write about the experience of women activists conned into relationships with undercover police officers.
The cover interview is with the film director Ken Loach recently expelled from the Labour Party. ‘We thought Ken would be the perfect interviewee for an issue of Proof that celebrates activism and the work of law centres,’ explains Proof co-editor Sue James. ‘His long career spans the life of the movement and there’s common ground between what law centres were set up to do and the subject matter of many of his campaigning films from Cathy to Daniel Blake. Arguably, legal aid has never had it’s Cathy Come Home moment.’ Sue James is a former director of Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre and chief exec of the Legal Action Group.
‘A film is a film. It’s what happens when you leave the cinema that counts. There has to be engagement with your union or community organisation but it has to lead to politics, otherwise you’re simply putting a sticking plaster on and saying: “Oh dear”.’
The issue features interviews with the dramatist Jimmy McGovern about his prison drama Time and veteran actor Ricky Tomlinson on his fight to clear his name after he was jailed for trade union activities in the 197os. It also runs an extract from the brilliant new book by Daniel Kahneman, Cass R Sunshine and Oliver Sibony Noise: A fall in human judgment.
In praise of do-gooders
It’s a measure of the oddness of these times that the word ‘activist’ has become an insult. In this issue, we celebrate 50 years of ‘radical law’ in the form of law centres. Law centres are set up by ‘do-gooders’ and staffed by ‘activist lawyers’ – in other words, people pushing for a better society.
The first law centre opened its doors in the early 1970s in west london in the shadow of the Westway with a mission to bring ‘law to the people’ within the reach of the tenants of the slum landlords like rachman and a West Indian community routinely harassed by the local police.
North Kensington law centre remains at the heart of the community it was set up to serve five decades ago, even if it has long been priced out of its original home and forced to relocate to the lancaster West estate. Its office is now literally in the shadow of the Grenfell Tower and the law centre became the first port of call for survivors of the fire that claimed the lives of 72 people in 2018.
At the time of writing, prime minister Boris Johnson has launched another attack on ‘lefty lawyers’. When the kind of serious justice issues raised in this magazine need to be discussed, don’t expect our politicans to engage in good faith.
We report on how the home office moved 400 asylum seekers into a dilapidated army barracks in Kent and then blamed them for the entirely predictable Covid outbreak. Photojournalist and proof stalwart Andy Aitchison was arrested in front of his children on suspicion of criminal damage after photographing a protest. As we clapped for the NHS, migrant workers became ‘the forgotten’, deaths of the homeless rose despite the ‘everyone in’ policy and the justice system failed to protect society’s most vulnerable.
In part three we feature the real victims of our broken justice system: eric Allison and Simon hattenstone’s important and disturbing account of Eddie Gilfoyle’s epic battle to clear his name; and Fran Robertson and Melanie McFadyean on our courts’ scandalous failure to get to grips with the running scandal of joint enterprise. Victims of a system undermined by decades of political neglect and ‘broken’ by austerity.
At last year’s conservative party conference, home secretary Priti Patel boasted that under Conservative leadership the UK ‘has and always will provide sanctuary when the lights are being switched off on people’s liberties’. ‘As for those defending the broken system – the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the labour party – they are defending the indefensible,’ she said.
As long as the justice system remains broken, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers and the activists will continue to defend the indefensible
You can preorder your copy of the magazine here.