Nearly Legal: Housing Law News and Comment

On the Naughty Step – the questionable ethics of the Christian Legal Centre

Some people will not have come across the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) until the Alfie Evans case. Others will know something of their history. What the Alfie Evans case has done is cast light on what one might call the modus operandi of the CLC and some serious and pressing questions about the roles of those involved and, where they are actually lawyers, their professional ethics.

I don’t propose to comment on the desperately sad Alfie Evans case itself. The poor child has now died. One cannot attach any blame for what has happened to the parents, either. Faced with a tragic and appalling situation, it is hardly surprising that they would turn to any people who seemed to be offering possible alternatives.

Nor do I propose to comment on the political and religious views espoused by the CLC (and their ‘parent’, Christian Concern), save to note for anyone who has not encountered them that they are against the following: baking Gay cakes, being a gay couple staying in a B&B, abortion (in any circumstances), registrars having to conduct gay marriages, embryonic human stem cell research, being transexual (at any age), and for being able to wear visible religious jewellery in a job which required no visible jewellery. One suspects that if if they could find a legal argument for banning divorce or masturbation, no matter how poor the argument, the High Court would be being asked to rule.

But, on to the practice questions.

Who are CLC?

They are a private limited company. They are NOT a legal practice, or ABS. They are NOT a charity (so no loophole there).

[Update: The memorandum of association sets out the CLC are a non-profit company. There is therefore a question whether they can carry out reserved legal activities under the s.23 Legal Services Act 2007 exemption (which was intended for Law Centres and Trade Unions). As a side point, the memorandum states that the minimum number of directors required is two. As far as I can see, there has been only one director since 2013.]

The majority of shares/voting rights are held by Mrs Andrea Rose Minichiello Williams, who is also the sole director. She lists her occupation as ‘Barrister’. We’ll come back to that.

Why is this important? Well, it means that CLC have no right or ability whatsoever to act for or represent clients in litigation in the courts. (the issue might be a bit different in the tribunals, but we’ll leave that aside.) Remember this. Because CLC certainly don’t (this is from their press release of 27 April).

There is one hell of a fudge going on between ‘our involvement’, ‘we issued a writ’, and ‘our standing counsel’. A fudge which not only obscures CLC’s own position, but opens up some very interesting (and difficult) questions for the solicitors and barristers involved.

Remember (because CLC consistently muddle this issue) that CLC cannot instruct solicitors or barristers on behalf of anyone else, only on behalf of CLC. Because CLC cannot conduct litigation on behalf of a ‘client’. In order to do that, they would need to have an authorised person (solicitor or Cilex) working for CLC and be SRA registered, carry professional indemnity insurance and so on. CLC are not SRA registered. [But note the s.23 exemption issue.]

Pavel Stroilov

The person who appears to have been mostly involved in the Alfie Evans case from CLC is called Pavel Stroilov. He is, or was, a student doing an LPC (It is not clear if he passed). He is not qualified. Yet CLC and Christian Concern hold him out as a ‘lawyer’ on a frequent basis.

Sadly, ‘lawyer’ is not a restricted term. Anyone can call themselves a lawyer, anyone at all. And they do, as we have seen when looking at ‘eviction specialists’. But although the term is effectively meaningless, that is not how people understand it.

Pavel Stroilov was/is either employed by, or a volunteer for CLC. He was/is certainly working on behalf of CLC.  His role became clear in the hearing before the Court of Appeal (where Paul Diamond was apparently instructed on a direct access basis – we’ll come back to this).

Here is the Liverpool Echo report on a part of the hearing…

As confirmed in the Court of Appeal judgment of 16 April 2018 at para 42-45

On 12th April 2018 the father went to the hospital with some other people who included a foreign doctor and air ambulance staff. The father had a letter written to him by Mr Pavel Stroilov of the Christian Legal Centre which, we were told, is a campaigning organisation. In the letter Mr Stroilov, who we have been told is not a lawyer, purported to give the father legal advice. He said that it would be lawful for the father to remove Alfie from the hospital and take him to any other place he chose. The previous order made by Hayden J was said not to have circumvented “your parental rights”.

The letter, which was disseminated on social media (presumably with the knowledge and consent of Mr Stroilov), stated that:
“as a matter of law it is your right to come to (the) hospital with a team of medical professionals with their own life-support equipment and move Alfie to such other place as you consider is best for him. You do not need any permission from (the) Hospital or the court to do so”.

This letter was misleading to the extent of giving the father false advice. We have been told that it had the most regrettable consequences in that it led to a confrontation in which Alfie was involved. The Police had to be called. An application had to be made as a matter of urgency to Hayden J.

The letter gave false advice because the previous decisions made by the courts in this case have directly addressed whether the parents have the right to decide what should happen to Alfie. The clear answer which has been given is that the parents’ wishes are not determinative. The court has also expressly decided that removing Alfie from the hospital as the parents wanted was “irreconcilable with (his) best interests” and that his treatment and care “shall” be given by this hospital. To act inconsistently with or contrary to the court’s determination and order would be to act without lawful authority. This includes the hospital which would have been acting in breach of the court’s order if they had permitted Alfie to be removed from the hospital.

The letter to the parents written by Pavel Stroilov for the CLC is here. It is truly remarkable that not only was the letter wholly wrong in law and in its advice, but that nowhere does it state that this ‘advice’ was not by a qualified legal professional.

The circumstances in which this letter became public, and of Mr Evans attempted to remove Alfie from Alder Hey hospital while brandishing it, are unclear. But if CLC had anything to do with that, they are a disgrace.

Mr Stroilov’s involvement doesn’t end there. In the 24 April judgment of Hayden J, we find at 14:

A statement had been prepared bearing the now instantly recognisable hallmark of Mr. Pavel Stroilov, a law student and case worker for Christian Legal Centre (CLC), who yesterday encouraged F to seek to issue a Private Prosecution alleging murder against some of the doctors at Alder Hey. It was properly rejected by the District Judge. Today’s efforts by Mr. Stroilov were equally inconsistent with the real interests of the parents’ case. The Witness Statement, which Mr. Diamond tells me Mr. Stroilov prepared, is littered with vituperation and bile, critical of those who have done so much to help Alfie, attacking the system generally and the Court in particular.

It appears that Pavel Stroilov also advised Mr Evans to bring a private prosecution – an action that was doomed and wholly abusive. It also appears that he did so while a CLC caseworker.

CLC appear to be trying to row back from appearing to have anything to do with the private prosecution. Their press release says

We also wish to make clear that we do not support the criminal prosecution of doctors involved in Alfie’s care.

That is rather hard to maintain when it was your self-described ‘lawyer’ who was still working on a witness statement for the hearing before Hayden J at the time who advised the parents to bring the prosecution.  CLC’s position is therefore effectively that they are utterly incompetent and can’t control their ‘lawyers’…

I gather there is talk of contempt of court applications against Mr Stroilov.

But a failure to supervise or control a caseworker, if that is what it was, is far from the only conduct issue involved.

Recall both Paul Diamond (barrister) and Pavel Stroilov both saying ‘there may be one or two qualified lawyers’ at CLC? If there were, either employed or a volunteers, they would quite possibly be held responsible for the actions of CLC ‘caseworkers’, either by their regulatory body, or potentially in costs. Recall the fate of Roderick McCarthy, who ended up with a £100,000 wasted costs order because of his involvement with the ‘lawyer’ Kevin Gregory and ‘Charles Henry‘.

This may be a moment to recall that Mrs Andrea Rose Minichiello Williams lists her occupation as ‘barrister’ at Companies House. There is no Andrea Williams or Andrea Minichiello on the BSB register, though. The CLC employed ‘Legal Advisor’ Libby Powell does not appear to be a solicitor or barrister (or competent).

Qualified lawyers

There are apparently two qualified lawyers involved with this matter with some sort of connection with CLC. Exactly what that connection is and what it might mean is rather more troubling.

Roger Kiska

Kiska is a solicitor – qualified in 2017 according to the Law Society – but his entry does not give a place, firm or organisation of practice.

Kiska is held out by CLC/Christian Concern as ‘Christian Concern Legal Counsel’. (Also ‘Christian Legal Centre legal Counsel‘) (All screenshot in case of vanishings). Here he is as being from CLC:

And then here he as as ‘family solicitor’ for the parents. And also ‘CLC Legal Counsel’.

Now this presents what we might call ‘some questions’.

Is Mr Kiska able to act for anyone in litigation? Does he have a practising certificate? Does he have professional indemnity insurance (without which he should absolutely not be practising)?

And, most importantly, who was/is he acting for? CLC or the parents?

Any solicitor must be absolutely clear who their client is. They have a duty to act in the best interests of that client. A situation where it it appears that instructions are coming from two parties where there may be a conflict of interest, or there may be an issue about giving independent advice to a client, is one where a solicitor should refuse instructions. The Code of Guidance is clear.

If Mr Kiska was actually employed by CLC, then there are a whole swathe of regulatory breaches, and, as above, the risk for Mr Kiska of being responsible for Mr Stroliov’s conduct.

I asked Andrea Williams these questions about Mr Kiska. There was no answer. I wonder if the SRA will investigate, as there is a prima facie regulatory issue.

Paul Diamond

Paul Diamond appeared in the High Court and Court of Appeal apparently representing the parents. But, but..

In the High Court (twice), Paul Diamond was listed thus:

Paul Diamond (instructed by The Christian Legal Centre) for the 1st Respondents

We have already established that CLC cannot possibly instruct Mr Diamond on behalf of the parents. But this listing could only conceivably have come from either Mr Diamond or the filed claim/application – it was not an error by the court or the transcribers. So there is a question there.

In the Court of Appeal, Mr Diamond appears as:

Mr Paul Diamond (instructed by Direct Access) for the Appellants

This also raises questions. While it is, of course, possible for Paul Diamond to be instructed on a direct access basis, this would mean that he owes his clients a full duty to provide independent advice and representation.

The thing is that he is listed as ‘Standing Counsel’ to CLC (whatever that means) and indeed had some years previously received payments of £8,000 a month from CLC for ‘religious liberties advice’ (para 98 here). There may well have been subsequent payments from CLC/Christian Concern.

The question (again asked of Andrea Williams and unanswered) is who Mr Diamond was acting for and whose instructions he took.

If he was acting on a direct access basis, did he make his involvement with (and possible payment from) CLC clear to the client? Did he address the possible conflicts of interest in his duty to give independent advice to the lay client while being ‘standing counsel’ to CLC?

Why did he allow the confusion over who he was instructed by? The CLC press statement does nothing to clear up this confusion, in fact it makes it worse. The statement clearly says Paul Diamond was acting for CLC

In the short period of our involvement, our highly experienced Standing Counsel Paul Diamond took the case from the High Court to the Court of Appeal, to the Supreme Court, and to the European Court – and then back again to the High Court and to the Court of Appeal. We can think of no other organisation that would have achieved this in such a short period.

But he can’t have been acting for CLC because they are not a party and are not able to conduct litigation.

These are perhaps matters that the Bar Standards Board might wish to look at.

The CLC/Christian Concern site has a list of ‘Lawyers instructed

Lawyers instructed:

Paul Diamond – Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre

Rob Andrews – Solicitor

Michael Phillips – Counsel

Philip Ross-Smith – Solicitor

But the question is, by whom? Once again, CLC cannot instruct actual lawyers on behalf of its ‘clients’. And the clients have full right to instruct lawyers of their own choice. So what is going on here? What exactly is the relation between CLC and these lawyers and how do the lawyers ensure their duties to the client are met? Questions, questions…

Questions, Questions

This kind of obfuscation and wrongful assertion is not unusual. We have seen it often enough in the scummier end of ‘eviction providers’ on this blog before. People shouting about ‘our lawyers’, ‘our cases’,’those we have represented’. For the ‘eviction specialists’ these claims nearly always turn out to be lies, or at the best over exuberant misrepresentations. It appears that the same is true of CLC. Once more, for emphasis, CLC are not a legal practice and can’t represent anyone [subject to any s.23 exemption].

Unless and until there is a clear explanation otherwise, it seems that CLC/Christian Concern are, at the least, content to muddy the waters over their status, their role and the nature and status of their ‘advice’ to clients. Holding out unqualified ‘caseworkers’ as ‘lawyers’ and suggesting that CLC could issue writs on behalf of its clients being examples of this.

The actual lawyers involved with CLC also have a lot of explaining to do – both Kiska and Diamond. They need to explain, in detail, why their professional ethics and obligations have not been breached.

I very, very much hope that the SRA and BSB will ask the relevant questions. Because what happened, and what the parents were put through in this case, because of CLC, was an utter disgrace.

[Update: At the Court of Appeal hearing on 25 April 2018, Mr Diamond was once again listed:

Mr P Diamond (instructed by the Christian Legal Centre)

How, one might yet again wonder.

The events behind the separate representation of the mother at that hearing lead the Court of Appeal to observe

  1. Before concluding this judgment, I wish to repeat something I said during the course of submissions. It has again become clear to this court that these two parents have been assisted by supporters in a number of respects but principally from the focus of the court in terms of the preparation of their now two separate legal cases. We were reminded that in the past leading counsel, Mr Stephen Knafler QC, acting then on behalf of both of the parents, deprecated the involvement of legally qualified but not practising lawyers who introduced (to use Mr Knafler’s phrase) a “darker side” to what was otherwise valuable support. It has become apparent to this court, and we referred to it in the postscript to the judgment that we gave on 6 March 2018 in relation to the first appeal, that there was some coordinated organisation of potential medical experts in relation to more than one of these vulnerable families, the same expert being covertly introduced to Kings College Hospital to examine secretly one child in the paediatric intensive care unit there and the next day to go to Alder Hey, again covertly and secretly, to purport to examine Alfie there.
  2. It is not the function of this court now to embark upon an investigation of these matters, but it has become apparent, in particular in terms of the information we have been given about the instruction of the new legal team for the mother today and the drafting of the grounds of appeal upon which Mr Coppel purported to rely at the start of his submissions, (with its unhappy emphasis on prospective criminal proceedings against the staff at Alder Hey) that the representation of the parents may have been infiltrated or compromised by others who purport to act on their behalf. I say no more, but I have in mind the tenuous nature of the direct contact that Mr Coppel and his instructing solicitors had with the mother and yet the clear grounds of appeal that he was instructed to put forward on her behalf, which were, it now transpires, drafted by a lawyer who is not before the court. It may be that some investigation of whether, in this country, at this time, parents who find themselves in these awful circumstances, and are therefore desperate for help and vulnerable to engaging with people whose interests may not in fact assist the parents’ case, needs some wider investigation, but I do no more than draw attention to the concern that this court has at what seems to be an unhelpful development which may, in reality, be contrary to the interests of such parents.

And it appears that the SRA are indeed considering investigating CLC.

On it goes.]

[Update. Andrea Minichello Williams asserts that she practised as a barrister for a number of years. I’ve got an email from the BSB which states that an Andrea Rose Minichiello was registered as a barrister in 1998, but never qualified and practised. On the other hand, someone else asserts that they have an email from the BSB stating that an Andrea Rose Minichiello was registered as practising as barrister from 1990 to 1996, though I have not yet seen that.

Whatever is true, it is certainly the case that Ms Minichiello Williams has been a non-practsing barrister since 1996, or 1998.

The trouble here is that the Bar Standards Board interprets its rules on non-practising barristers calling themselves barristers as follows:

Rule rS8 provides that you must not practise as a barrister unless you have a practising certificate, and rule rS9 defines practising as a barrister as including holding yourself out as a barrister while providing legal services. This means that unregistered barristers cannot use the title barrister, or otherwise convey the impression that they are practising as barristers, in connection with providing any legal services. If you are unregistered and providing any legal services in your employment, you should make sure that your employer does not use titles such as barrister, unregistered barrister or non-practising barrister on business cards, promotional material, letterheads, in its printed material or on its website.

Here are two of Ms Minichiello William’s linkedin pages (two accounts).

This would appear to be describing oneself as a barrister in connection with providing legal services (as CLC certainly hold themselves out as providing legal services).  And further, Ms Minichiello Williams has never held back from describing herself as a barrister when commenting in the media on legal issues, something the BSB also says is a definite no no.

So, whatever her past status as a barrister (and I wait for more on this), there does seem to be more than a bit of a breach of  BSB ( @barstandards ) rules going on here. Unless CLC doesn’t provide legal services, (by wide definition, not just reserved activities), in which case, everything in their public statements is rubbish. ]