In Memory of Sir Henry Brooke
It is with deep regret that we have learnt of the death of Sir Henry Brooke – a tremendous loss to all of us fighting to restore access to justice for all the people.
Ian Rathbone, Chair of Hackney Community Law Centre, said:
It was an honour for us when he came to visit our Hackney Community Law Centre and he was so encouraging to the team, and intent on hearing their views and how they experienced and thought about the justice system. It was all written down, and then out it came in one of his blogs.
He knew how to keep up with communications in order to express a different view point on life, another way of seeing vulnerable and poor people, struggling with their lives and then with the legal system.
He could be serious – after all he had been a High Court Judge – but he also had a great sense of humour and wit about the ironies and absurdities of the system and life in general.
He enlivened our recent AGM with his description of the effect of a new and enthusiastic young legal aid lawyer on the housing officers at the local authority:
“I read the other day of a whistle-blowing local government housing officer who spoke of what he called an institutional contempt of claimants who sought help in homelessness cases in some of the councils he worked for. He said that this was notable in councils where there weren’t law centres or local welfare rights advisers to hold them to account for decisions which were unfair and plain wrong. He added this – if you will pardon my French: “When I went to work for one council in Greater London, it was getting away with murder. Then some solicitor joined the local Citizens’ Advice… she was s**t hot. The council didn’t know what had hit them. The CAB were getting people coming in with bad homelessness decisions the council had made. The solicitor was going back to the council and saying ‘What the hell are you doing? I’m going to judicial review you and take you to court if you don’t do something.’ The council were just running around like their a*ses were on fire, going ‘we don’t know what to do now.’ "The council saw these challenges to its poor housing decisions like a total affront: ‘This is disgusting. Why should people be allowed to be covered by the law? Who does she think she is, upholding the law?’ ”
And indeed, some people in the establishment have no doubt said the same of Sir Henry – who does he think he is with his ideas of justice for the poor and access for all, and fair payment for lawyers working in the legal aid system. But I don’t think he cared very much because he seemed to know what was right, and pursued it over a vast number of issues. The Law Centres movement has much to thank him for.
We really will miss him. A real gem. One of us. And despite his criticism of it, someone who made it clear that the system can work – if set up in the right way with full access for all people, the aspiration for all those in the legal system who are decent minded and guided by care.