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
 
 

The Guardian: Teenagers Begin High Court Challenge Against Tuition Fee Rise

Lawyer for two 17-year-olds will argue decision to let universities almost treble fees contravenes human rights and equality laws

Two teenagers have begun a case in the high court against the government's decision to let universities almost treble tuition fees next year.

Callum Hurley and Katy Moore, both 17, argue that the decision to raise fees to up to £9,000 a year from next autumn contravenes human rights and equality legislation.

Their case is expected to last two days and has been paid for through legal aid and pro bono work.

Sam Jacobs, representing the students for Public Interest Lawyers of Birmingham, said there were two grounds for bringing the case.

He will argue first that the rise in fees is in breach of the right to education protected in the Human Rights Act 1998. That right does not guarantee free higher education, but it does place curbs on steps that limit access to higher education, he will tell the court.

He will also argue that the government failed to give "due regard" to promoting equality of opportunity as required under the Race Relations, Sex Discrimination and Disability Discrimination Acts.

Female, disabled people and ethnic minority graduates tend to earn less over their lifetime than male, non-disabled, white graduates, Jacobs will say.

The case, which is being heard by Mr Justice King and Lord Justice Elias, has been urged to come to a conclusion within weeks because thousands of students have already started applying for university places for next autumn.

Last month, the first set of statistics on applications to university next year, published by the Universities and Colleges and Admissions Service (Ucas), showed a near 12% drop in the number of UK-born candidates.

The decision to treble fees was a "major policy change affecting the life chances of a generation of students and billions of pounds of public expenditure", the documents outlining the claimants argument say. "Such a decision should not have been taken without the appropriate degree of rigorous attention to equality needs."

Hurley was one of the thousands of demonstrators kettled during the student protests in December.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, he said he was representing thousands of students from poor backgrounds who would be deterred from applying to university because of how much they would have to pay back after they graduated. Neither of his parents went to university.

Hurley, who is from Peterborough and is studying for a BTec in software development, said the government ignored protests: "Taking legal action will achieve much more."

Moore, who is studying for A-levels at an academy school in south London, said her peers were confused about how much they would pay in tuition fees once they graduated. "This makes it difficult to decide what to do about our futures," she said.
 
See: 
 
The Guardian
 
BBC
 
Huffington Post
 
Press Association
 
AFP
 
Peterborough Today
 
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