Home

Recent Activity

The Society of Labour Lawyers’ Housing Sub-Group hosted a well-attended round-table discussion on Wednesday 11th October,  chaired by Liz Davies, discussing the practical, political and legal routes to putting empty homes to good use.

First, we heard from John Hobson QC of Landmark Chambers, who provided us with a legal background and a workable and exciting proposal. We then congratulated the newly elected Labour MP for Kensington & Chelsea, Emma Dent-Coad, and learnt more about the practical effect of vacant property in her constituency. Labour’s council leader in Kensington & Chelsea, Robert Atkinson, expressed his support and enthusiasm for change in the borough.

We have a chronic shortage of homes. The cause of this problem could be traced back to the ‘right to buy’ and the treasury’s stranglehold on local authorities’ funding: which restricts them from building replacement council housing when needed. There is no realistic right to buy in Kensington & Chelsea, according to Emma Dent-Coad, and Robert Atkinson could not dispute that council funds are emaciated.

Yet there seems to be an abundance of empty, available property. Dent-Coad presented evidence that newly-built flats in Chelsea are being deliberately kept off the market to keep prices high. Why can’t these empty properties be brought into public use - especially in times of catastrophe (for example the Grenfell tower fire)?

 The rights of owners are expressed in Article 1 Protocol 1 of the ECHR: which guarantee every natural or legal person ‘peaceful enjoyment’ of their property. However, even this right is qualified: that no one should be deprived their property ‘except in the public interest’.

Hobson laid out case-law to conclude that before we begin housing the homeless in empty tower-blocks we would need: 1) express statutory authority; and 2) to provide fair compensation.

A possible mechanism already in existence would be to enforce individual compulsory purchase orders (CPOs). These are eventually effective, but are cumbersome - often giving rise to lengthy Court battles and requiring the payment of uplifted compensation – so should be seen as a last resort and unsuitable in times of emergency. 

Hobson’s twin suggestions are as follows:

Firstly, he proposes a register of vacant property. Section 151 of the Housing & Planning Act 2016 is intended to allow local authorities to create a register of brown-field land. There seems to be no reason this couldn’t be extended to register empty homes. Emma Dent-Coad spoke about photographing Chelsea’s ‘dark buildings’ and suggested she had already begun compiling such a list for the council.   

Secondly, local authorities should be empowered to take possession of land on the register. Hobson identified another new piece of legislation that could be used: the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. Section 17 enables local authorities to take possession of land with a CPO. However, this Act would require formal amendments to the procedure for purchasing properties on the vacant property register. Firstly, he would remove the requirement for 3 month’s notice or shorten this period; secondly, he would remove the potentially obstructive counter-notice procedure; and thirdly he would award compensation only for loss of use of vacant property specifically, not uplifted compensation for loss of occupation.

If these changes were enacted, by a Labour government or under public pressure, local authorities would have a real opportunity to use empty homes without facing the expense and delay of a compulsory purchase order. Furthermore, we would expect this to have a positive effect on the housing market, as owners might rather rent out or sell their property at an equitable and less artificial price than face the risk of compulsory purchase.

We finished with a round-table discussion. Former Grenfell resident Thomasina Hessel explained her frustration at the need for a formal legislative process. It was suggested that a campaigning group could lobby for a private member’s bill on the topic. Dent-Coad pointed out that in Singapore you cannot buy a new home unless you want to live there. SLL member Joel Ainsworth asked why similar legislation could not be enforced here and if, in any case, a non-EU buyer would have standing to take their case to the ECHR? Hobson queried whether in any case we treat A1P1 ECHR too cautiously: it does include an exception for public policy, so it might stretch more than expected. Other alternative suggestions were a relaxation on squatting laws, requiring a resident beneficial owner when registering land at the land registry, and a copy of St Ives’s ban on new-build second homes (recently approved by the High Court).

SLL thanks Liz Davies, chair of the Housing group, and Garden Court Chambers for hosting this event. If you wish to get involved in SLL groups, please contact me on administrator@societyoflabourlawyers.org.uk

 Oliver Kavanagh 

Appropriating Empty Property to House the Homeless

The Society of Labour Lawyers’ Housing Sub-Group hosted a well-attended round-table discussion on Wednesday 11th October,  chaired by Liz Davies, discussing the practical, political and legal routes to putting empty homes to...

by Hannah Gomersall (delegate)

This year, the Society of Labour Lawyers held an exciting programme of fringe events which brought in voices from across the legal profession and labour movement.

 

On Sunday night, we heard from Baroness Shami Chakrabarti (Shadow Attorney General), Nick Thomas-Symonds MP (Shadow Solicitor General), Baroness Diane Hayter (Shadow Spokesperson for Exiting the EU), Christina Blacklaws (Vice President of the Law Society) and Andrew Langdon QC (Chair of the Bar Council) on “The Law and Brexit”, Chaired by Kate O’Rourke. It was clear from discussion that a great deal of work has already been done by the professional associations to highlight legal concerns which must be urgently addressed by the government before we exit the EU: from financial regulation, to environmental law, to child abduction. There is considerable expertise in these areas within our membership and also evident was an appetite from the labour front bench for our assistance on these legal issues however possible.

 

On Monday, SLL joined Lord Bach and the Fabians in launching the commission’s final report on Access to Justice. The event was well attended and audience members welcomed the commission’s recommendations as they recalled the effects LASPO has had on their own practices and experiences.

 

On Monday night, Young Labour Lawyers held a well-attended drinks reception on the topic of Wellbeing in the legal profession. We were lucky that many members of the shadow justice team were keen to join us to discuss the stresses placed on the profession at the moment, particularly in the area of legal aid work and young lawyers including those trying to access the profession.

 

On Tuesday, SLL held a joint event with Justice on the modernisation of the justice system. Speakers included Baroness Shami Chakrabarti (Shadow Attorney General), Richard Burgon (Shadow Secretary of State for Justice), Andrea Coomber (Director of JUSTICE), Christina Blacklaws (Vice President of the Law Society), Andrew Langdon QC (Chair of the Bar Council).

Questions from the audience suggested a number of ideas on how technology can be used to widen access to justice, although inevitably discussion returned to a court system presently at breaking point due to funding pressures.

 

As the Society of Labour Lawyers delegate at conference this year, I was proud to vote for an amendment proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement and adopted by the NEC to outlaw discrimination in all forms from our party. However, I felt that the quality of the conference floor debate on this issue was at times not a positive reflection of Labour values. Fortunately, the motion passed. Elsewhere, I was disappointed that delegates chose not to debate Brexit, the greatest issue currently facing the country (though it was at least a topic for discussion at numerous fringe events).

 

Although there were no timetabled floor debates on Access to justice, it’s fair to say the issue took centre stage at fringe events this year. At a timetabled Justice Policy Seminar for delegates, case study after case study was raised by delegates concerned about the devastation of family and immigration legal aid, prohibitively high court fees, and criminal and housing legal advice deserts. There was a renewed sense of purpose following the release of the Bach Commission’s final report on Access to Justice that the current situation is unsustainable, as well as an optimism that we could gather a cross-party consensus for an urgent and overdue review of LASPO.

 

Hannah Gomersall

Labour Party Conference Report 2017

by Hannah Gomersall (delegate) This year, the Society of Labour Lawyers held an exciting programme of fringe events which brought in voices from across the legal profession and labour movement....

Welcome to the website of the Society of Labour Lawyers.

Our conference events for 2017 are:

 

Q&A on the Law and Brexit  (conference pass required)

A conversation with the Labour Party Legal front bench, the Vice President of the Law Society and the Chair of the Bar Council to discuss the key legal issues arising from the vote to leave the European Union. 

Sunday 24 September 2017 at 18:30pm 
Room: Hall 7 - Wye

Hilton Brighton Metropole

Kings Road,

Brighton. BN1 2FU

Speakers: Kate O'Rourke, Chair (Society of Labour Lawyers), Baroness Shami Chakrabarti (Shadow Attorney General), Baroness Dianne Hayter (Shadow Spokesperson for Exiting the EU), Christina Blacklaws (Vice President of the Law Society), Andrew Langdon QC (Chair of the Bar Council). 



Justice in the Modern Age  (no conference pass required)

2017 sees opportunities and challenges: a new Lord Chief Justice, new Supreme Court judges, and a radical justice modernisation programme. This panel event, organised with JUSTICE, the Bar Council and the Law Society, explores how to deliver justice in turbulent political times.


Tuesday 26 September 2017 at 13:00pm
The Old Ship,

King’s Road,

Brighton. BN1 1NR

Speakers: Kate O'Rourke, Chair (Society of Labour Lawyers), Baroness Shami Chakrabarti (Shadow Attorney General), Richard Burgon (Shadow Secretary of State for Justice), Andrea Coomber (Director of JUSTICE), Christina Blacklaws (Vice President of the Law Society), Andrew Langdon QC (Chair of the Bar Council). 

 

Young Labour Lawyers - drinks reception  (no conference pass required)

Join us for drinks, nibbles and networking as we discuss the issue of Well Being in the Legal Profession, with Richard Burgon (Shadow Secretary of State for Justice), Andrew Langdon QC (Chair of the Bar Council), Christina Blacklaws (Vice-Chair of the Law Society), Gloria Del Piero (Shadow Justice Team) and Shami Chakrabarti (Shadow Attorney General)

Monday 25th September 2017 at 17:30pm

The Mesmerist, The Lanes

1-3 Prince Albert Street,

Brighton. BN1 1HE

Conference Events 2017

Welcome to the website of the Society of Labour Lawyers. Our conference events for 2017 are:   Q&A on the Law and Brexit  (conference pass required)A conversation with the Labour Party...


View More Activities

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.