Law Centre NI

Law Centre (NI)

promoting social justice through legal advice,
representation, policy, training and publications

Welcome to our March 2012 e-newsletter.

We hope you find the information useful.  Please circulate it to interested colleagues.  If it does not display properly, follow this link to the HTML version.

Our Policy Unit has just published a bulletin reporting on its work over autumn and winter.  Read Policy Bulletin No 11 – February 2012 here.

 

Contents

Leadership award

Successful launch for LSP

Welfare reform conference

March training

Immigration caselaw

DLA cases

Leadership award for Law Centre

Les Allamby and Grainne McKeever celebrate leadership award

Law Centre (NI) Director Les Allamby scooped the award for leading on political impact at the 2012 CO3 Leadership Awards.  The awards celebrate the leaders of third sector organisations who deliver dynamic and inspiring leadership.

'This award is recognition of Les’s work and the work of the Law Centre as a whole in promoting social justice,' said Grainne McKeever, Chair of the Law Centre's Management Committee.

The awards were presented as part of CO3’s biennial leadership conference, Dealers in Hope: a leadership conference to take us forward, held on 23 and 24 February in the City Hotel, Derry.

CO3 (Chief Officers 3rd Sector) is a membership organisation for Northern Ireland’s third sector leaders. Its members lead a wide range of organisations; from charities, social economy organisations and partnerships, to community, faith-based and voluntary organisations.

 

Legal Support Project launched

Sinead Mulhern speaks at the launch of Legal Support Project

The Law Centre’s Legal Support Project was formally launched on 1 March at the Law Society, in an event sponsored by Allen & Overy.  The Honourable Mr Justice Stephens, Karen MacKay, Chief Executive, FRU (Free Representation Unit) and Sinead Mulhern, Head of the Legal Support Project,  spoke at the well attended event.

The new service is delivered by trained volunteers who will provide free advice and representation in social security appeals and industrial tribunals. The project is starting with social security cases and will progress to employment cases in the coming months.

We will keep members advised as the work of the project develops. If you would like to find out more about the project contact Sinead Mulhern on 028 9043 5050 or sinead.mulhern@legalsupportproject.com

 

A productive conference on welfare reform

Les Allamby on live stream at Welfare Reform Conference

With the Welfare Reform Bill due to be introduced this spring, the Law Centre and NICVA hosted a conference on welfare reform on Tuesday 6 March at NICVA. 

The impact of sanctions, cuts to housing and disability benefits, payments to ‘head of household’, whether welfare will address poverty or worsen living conditions, child poverty, the timescale of reforms and the different situation in Northern Ireland were much debated throughout the day.

The event was broadcast live from NICVA on www.nicva.org/live and twitter.

Neil Couling, Director, Department for Work and Pensions, explained the principles and process of the government’s welfare reform programme, while  Les Allamby outlined the impact of and concerns about welfare reform in Northern Ireland.

Labour peer Baroness Ruth Lister spoke from her experience in the House of Lords about the pitfalls of the current trend of reform and criticised the demonisation of people in receipt of benefits.

Will Haire, Permanent Secretary, Department for Social Development, gave the current Northern Ireland position on the Bill.  The panel discussion explored ways to implement welfare reform differently in Northern Ireland without affecting the parity principle. 

The conference closed with a political debate involving Neil Couling, Alex Maskey MLA, Chair of Social Development Committee, Baroness Ruth Lister, Mark H Durkan, MLA, Judith Cochrane, MLA, Paula Bradley, MLA.

The next issue of Frontline will feature a report of the conference and the day's broadcast will be available on NICVA's websites.

 

Join our spring training

WRAP course March 2012

Look out for our new training programme which is due out in April.

Meanwhile, we still have some places on the following courses:

7 March: Children and young people in the immigration system - Belfast

21 March: Identifying Errors of Law - Taking Cases to the Commissioner - Belfast

21 March: Benefits for Carers - Derry

28 March: Benefits for Carers - Belfast

All our courses carry CPD points for solicitors, barristers and CAB advisers.

For more details, contact noreen.hyndman@lawcentreniwest.org, 028 7126 2433

or visit our website: www.lawcentreni.org

 

Immigration caselaw

Zambrano and McCarthy: what it means for residents in Northern Ireland

The Law Centre’s new information briefing explains the implications of two recent European cases, Zambrano and McCarthy, which have important implications for non-EEA nationals residing in Northern Ireland (the EEA is the European Economic Area).    Read the full briefing on Zambrano and McCarthy here.

We are interested in referrals from members on cases which involve the issues raised by these cases.

 

Tribunals must record evidence justifying their decisions

In a recent DLA case, we established that a social security tribunal had failed to give objective reasons for its decision to uphold a reduction in our client’s DLA award. 

Our client had a significant mental health condition.  His award of the higher rate of the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA)had been changed to  middle rate  care component and lower rate mobility component. A Social Security Tribunal had confirmed the change.

We took the case to the Social Security Commissioner, arguing that:

·         the tribunal had erred in its assessment and reasons for not allowing the care component for day time attention arising from the client's mental health;

·         it had misinterpreted the evidence relating to his mental health and therefore had not dealt properly with his need for frequent attention throughout the day.

Commissioner Stockman set the decision aside on the grounds that he could find no basis in the evidence recorded by the tribunal to justify its findings that our client’s mental health was variable in nature.  If the tribunal had an objective basis for making such a finding, it is not recorded in the record of proceedings or statement of reasons.

 

Revision of DLA decision

In another recent case, we persuaded the Social Security Agency to revise a decision to refuse Disability Living Allowance to a client who suffers from a degenerative spinal condition.  He had been refused DLA on the basis of a negative Examining Medical Practitioner report but was awarded the middle rate care and higher rate mobility components following a fresh application a year later.

The client had appealed the initial refusal but received a negative decision from the appeal tribunal. We obtained a successful decision from the Commissioner on further appeal.

The case was returned to the appeal tribunal to be heard by a differently constituted panel.  At this stage we approached the Social Security Agency to request a revision of the initial decision.

This request was ultimately successful due to strong evidence from the client’s GP about the extent of his condition at the time the initial award was refused. Following revision, he received a back-dated payment of DLA at the rate he is currently on.

Importantly, when requesting the revision, we pointed out to the Social Security Agency that a decision to revise would be in keeping with the recommendation by the President of the Appeals Service that the preferred course of action is to try and have appeals resolved before going to hearing in those cases where it is possible.
In appropriate cases, for example where the medical evidence is strong and indicates that a tribunal is likely to find in favour of the appellant, we would suggest requesting a revision of decisions to refuse by the Department.