Public Interest Lawyers is an extraordinary firm of solicitors, who must be – certainly should be – the pride of the legal profession. Through their tenacity, quality and sheer hard work – often from unpromising beginnings and in dark times for public funding – they have single-handedly been responsible for shining the torchlight of legal accountability in a range of new areas. The work continues unabated. No barrister or judge, here or in Strasbourg, could have come to deal with the sorts of human rights issues which PIL continues to raise, but for their principled and brave pursuit of justice.

 

PIL demonstrates three further important things. First, how positive and constructive can be the use of public funding in public law cases, in the public interest. It has been hard. But PIL and the LSC have forged a partnership which is second to none, as to the importance of the cases that are brought, their success and their wider impact. Secondly, PIL demonstrates that London does not always lead, and a London-centric focus is neither helpful nor fair. This firm, from what are still sometimes thought of as “the provinces”, is the nation’s leader for human rights application in challenging cases. That PIL is looking, as a Birmingham-based firm. How refreshing for it to be that way.Thirdly, let it not be forgotten that PIL was set up as a new firm of solicitors. This is not the further and continued work of an established firm, set up long ago when times were different. This was an innovation; a leap of faith in the rule of law. It was a boat launched in a sea of uncertainty, which has turned out to be the flagship for public law accountability under the rule of law.

 

Michael Fordham QC
Michael Fordham QC
 
 

Legal Challenge To The Rise In Tuition Fees To Be Heard 1 And 2 November 2011 At The Royal Courts Of Justice

A claim brought by two sixth form students, Callum Hurley (age 17) and Katy Moore (age 17), challenging the lawfulness of the Coalition Government’s policy of increasing the maximum amount of tuition fees in England to £9,000 per annum is to be heard by two judges in the High Court on 1 and 2 November 2011.[1]  The hearing will commence at 10:30am on 1 November.  If it succeeds, Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, will be forced back to the drawing board.

 

The Claimants, who are represented by Public Interest Lawyers, lodged their claim on 18 March 2011.  They argue that the regulations raising the maximum fee to £9,000 breaches the right to education protected by the Human Rights Act 1999.  The European Court of Human Rights has previously indicated that where a state sets up higher education institutions, the right of access must be “effective,” and not theoretical or illusory.  The Claimants argue that the fear of debt in excess of £50,000 will render the right of access illusory, particularly amongst students from poorer backgrounds who are known to be more averse to debt.  Moreover, the right to education must be read in light of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which the UK is a signatory, which requires states to work progressively towards free higher education.  The Claimants also argue that, in the rush of the Secretary of State to pass the regulations, he did not discharge his duty to give due regard to issues of equality.

 

On 23 June 2011, Mr Justice Collins granted permission for the Claimants’ claim to proceed to a full hearing.  Mr Justice Collins said it was “arguable” that “there has been insufficient regard paid to the question of participation and to the likelihood (a possibility recognised by the Defendant [the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills]) that fewer low income potential students will want to take the financial risk.”  He said: “The equality duty depends on an [Equality Impact Assessment] said to be ‘interim’ – that does not inculcate confidence in its reliability.” 

 

The claim seeks the repeal of the Higher Education (Higher Amount) Regulations 2010 and an assurance that a proper equality impact assessment is made before any replacement policy is formulated.

 

Callum Hurley and Katy Moore will be making a statement outside the Royal Courts of Justice at 9:45 am on 1 November 2011.



[1] Reflecting the seriousness of the issues, the case will be heard by a Court of Appeal Judge sitting with a High Court Judge.


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