Friday, 26 June 2015

GLC's Public Interest Litigation Unit gets underway in Scotland

Govan Law Centre has been working to establish a Public Interest Litigation Unit which aims to offer a new service to advice agencies, charities, community groups and campaigners across Scotland. 

We have already identified some significant test cases affecting tens of thousands of vulnerable Scots which we are currently progressing, in partnership with a national charity in Scotland.

Our Public Interest Litigation Unit (PILU) seeks to advance human rights, equality and financial inclusion through the use of strategic public interest litigation in Scotland.

We will have a particular focus on mitigating the impact of the austerity agenda, with its resultant cuts to welfare benefits and essential public services. Public interest litigation is the use of legal action which seeks to advance the cause of minority or disadvantaged groups or individuals, or which seeks to progressively advance issues of significant public concern.

PILU's remit cuts across all areas of unmet legal need (for example, public law and judicial review, disability and welfare rights, social work law, consumer credit and financial services, housing, health and education law, to name just some legal areas).

Where an advice agency, charity, community group or campaigners think they may have a potential issue/case where there is an injustice with a wider public interest we may be able to help.

Our criteria for undertaking research and litigation will include our assessments on whether there is (a) an unmet legal need (b) strategic public interest in Scotland or the UK (c) a stateable legal case and (d) whether we have sufficient funding for litigation.

We will be able to offer access to in-house solicitor advocates and a range of specialist in-house legal experience. Services will include identifying strategic legal arguments supported by case law, producing legal opinions, developing test case strategies, working with solicitor advocates and advocates in the progress of test cases, and developing and supporting wider campaign plans.

To discuss whether our PILU may be able to assist please e-mail in the first instance Deirdre Flanigan on pilu @ govanlc.com The PILU is headed up by our Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, with the support of the legal team at Govan and Govanhill Law Centres.

We are also interested to hear from any advocates, and solicitors in private practice, who may be interested in giving up some time to work with our PILU, or any other ideas that you may have to co-operate in the development of more effective strategic public interest litigation in Scotland. Please feel free to e-mail pilu @ govanlc.com as the first point of contact.


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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Financial barriers by housing associations puts prevention of homelessness at risk in Scotland

Govan Law Centre (GLC) is concerned that some social landlords in Scotland have now introduced major financial barriers which are stopping homeless people from accessing their statutory rights to permanent accommodation. 

For example, it is now common place in Glasgow for a homeless person - legally entitled to an offer of a permanent tenancy from a housing association - to be told he or she will only be granted a lease by the association if they pay the first month's rent 'up-front'.  This is an insurmountable barrier for many homeless people, who are either in receipt of benefits or low wages - both of which are paid in arrears - and trying to cope with the mental and physical stress and anguish of homelessness.

GLC believes that this change in policy by some registered social landlords has and will undermine the Scottish Government and COSLA's progressive strategies to prevent homelessness in Scotland.  The policy change also demonstrates a failure by some housing associations to properly consider the needs of vulnerable people. 

GLC's Prevention of Homelessness Senior Manager, Alasdair Sharp, said: "While it is standard practice in the private rented sector for one month's rent to be required in advance; Scottish housing associations receive significant public subsidy, enjoy charitable status and numerous statutory powers".

"The reason for is, is because the Scottish Government and Parliament recognises the fundamental need for social housing in Scotland - and that fact it has a different role to play than the private sector. Social landlords enjoy a privileged position to ensure that the most vulnerable and less advantaged in our society are treated justly and fairly. GLC believes that demanding advance rent from homeless households is at odds with the ethos and role of social landlords. More worryingly, it undermines prevention of homelessness and financial inclusion strategies in Scotland".

GLC believes the Scottish Government should give consideration to using its delegated powers to issue statutory guidance (under section 5(7) of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001) to clarify that it is not acceptable to require an advance payment of rent as a condition of a person being accommodated as a homeless person; as well as putting the issue beyond any doubt by inserting an appropriate ancillary clause in the forthcoming Housing (Scotland) Bill to amend the 2001 Act accordingly.


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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

GLC research reveals systemic failure of councils to meet education duties for 'looked after' children in Scotland

Research conducted by Govan Law Centre has revealed widespread failure by Scotland’s local authorities to meet their education law duties for looked after children.
 
In terms of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004, every looked after child with additional support needs must be assessed for a Co-ordinated Support Plan (CSP). There is a legal presumption that looked after children do have additional support needs (unless the reverse is proved).
 
Figures from freedom of information requests sent to all 32 local authorities in Scotland show that:
 
• Of 12,533 looked after children with additional support needs, only 6,374 have actually been assessed for a CSP, leaving almost half – 5,799 unassessed
 
• Of the 6374 who have been assessed, only 368 have been deemed as requiring a CSP. This is only 2.9% of looked after children with additional support needs – a drop from 5.1% in 2013
 
• Despite having a right of appeal, none of the 6,374 cases local authorities claim to have assessed have been appealed, calling into question both the robustness of the process and whether local authorities are respecting the rights of children in their care.
 
• The number of looked after children after assessment deemed as requiring a co-ordinated support plan varies greatly, from 46.7% of those assessed in Highland to only 0.7% in East Ayrshire.
 
Iain Nisbet, Head of Education Law at Govan Law Centre said:
 
“These duties have been in force for nearly 5 years and local authorities are still failing to live up to their legal duties towards looked after children. In fact, we suspect that many of those the authorities claim to have assessed have not been given their full legal rights, illustrated best by the total absence of any appeals.  The system is failing thousands of children right across Scotland, leaving them to the poorer educational outcomes and life chances we know looked after children face.”

“The reason these duties were introduced by the Scottish Parliament is that often looked after children do not have effective parental advocates to stand up for their rights. Govan Law Centre pointed out these failings to Ministers, who have oversight and powers of direction over Councils, in 2013 and we are doing so again now to highlight that little has changed in the intervening years.  Our figures show that too few authorities are respecting the rights of looked after children, and it is now time for the Scottish Ministers to do so instead.  We are calling for an urgent meeting with the Cabinet Secretary and for swift and robust action to tackle the repeated failures of Scottish Councils.”


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Thursday, 21 May 2015

Recruitment: trainee solicitor vacancy at Govan Law Centre

Govan Law Centre is seeking a new Trainee Solicitor to join its award winning legal team.  

The role will include defending evictions and mortgage repossessions as part of our Prevention of Homelessness Rights Hubs across Glasgow, providing advice and representation on a range of social welfare law, consumer rights and public law issues, along with undertaking work in our Govanhill Law Centre office, working with the Roma community and EU migrant workers.

The new post will also have scope to undertake legal work within our national Education Law Unit, which provides expert advice and representation in the field of Scots education law. There may also be an opportunity to undertake Parliamentary law reform and social justice campaign work. We believe this is a fantastic opportunity for someone who has a demonstrable passion for social justice in Scotland.

Please send a CV, and a relevant covering letter (the covering letter should be no more than 2 pages of A4) to: Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor at Govan Law Centre, 18-20 Orkney Street, Glasgow, G51 2BZ or m@govanlc.com. The closing date for applications is 4pm, Friday 12 June 2015.

No recruitment agencies necessary thank-you.  The likely interview date for shortlisted candidates is the week commencing Monday 22 June 2015.

Govan Law Centre is a Registered Scottish Charity SC030193 http://www.govanlc.com/ And aims to be an Equal Opportunities Employer. You must hold, or be entitled to hold, a valid Entrance Certificate from the Law Society of Scotland to apply for this post, in relation to a proposed start date of Summer 2015.
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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Sheriff Principal upholds Ayrshire homeowner's appeal against mortgage repossession

The Sheriff Principal of North Strathclyde has allowed a homeowner's appeal against a decree for mortgage repossession at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court today.

In the case of Clydesdale Bank plc v. S, an order for ejection and possession had been granted earlier this year as the homeowner's mortgage had matured and come to an end. The homeowner had become ill, with a drop in household income, and the bank was unwilling to provide any further lending.

All possible avenues for a solution had been pursued unsuccessfully, however, the Ayrshire Homelessness and Prevention (AHAP) project solicitor, Lynn Fraser of Govan Law Centre (GLC) had pursued a mortgage mis-selling case against Clydesdale Bank plc.

This was on the basis that the bank had sold their customer an interest only 'mortgage' that lasted for three and half years. The customer had purchased a property upon the understanding that a mortgage had been provided on the standard repayment basis, with an initial short term period of three and half years being 'interest only'. In fact, the product actually sold was a short term secured loan, and not a mortgage in the normal understanding of that term.

When the case called before the sheriff, the Clydesdale Bank plc advised the court that the mis-selling complaint had been 'rejected', notwithstanding this had not been intimated to the customer in writing. The sheriff considered that there was no defence, although the homeowner's solicitor advised the mis-selling case was live, and access to the Financial Ombudsman Service's statutory alternative dispute redress scheme might well be pursued given the unusual nature of the mortgage product sold.

In recalling the sheriff's interlocutor (decree for repossession), Sheriff Principal Murray held that the sheriff had erred in law in his application of the statutory tests in section 24(7) of the Conveyancing and Feudal Reform (Scotland) Act 1970, and the identical provisions in section 5A(7) of the Heritable Securities (Scotland) Act 1894. He considered that the mis-selling case was a relevant matter which should have been explored further and that a proof should have been fixed.

The Sheriff Principal allowed answers (defences) to be lodged by the appellant and defender, and fixed an evidential hearing (diet of proof). The appellant and defender was represented by GLC's Mike Dailly; and the respondents and pursuers by McClure Naismith LLP's David Forrester.

The decisions of Sheriff Principals are binding in their Sheriffdoms. The Sheriffdom of North Strathclyde includes the Sheriff Courts of Kilmarnock, Dunoon, Oban, Campbeltown, Greenock, Dumbarton and Paisley.  Scotland has six Sheriffdoms.



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