by | May 5, 2021

Supporting civil society in all its forms

At Bates Wells, we are proud to support civil society in all its forms. We are constantly inspired by the passion, drive, and ingenuity of our clients’ campaigns – and this has never been truer than over the past year.

The extraordinary challenges of the pandemic have intensified the demands on civil society, and campaigners have more than stepped up – finding new and innovative ways to capture the public mood, while we have all been stuck at home. From changing the way we use PPE and seeking accountability in public procurement, to demanding furlough scheme equality and adequate funding for small business, civil society has shaped how the country has dealt with the consequences of Covid-19.

But the virus aside, normal life continues, as do many wider societal issues – and campaigns to solve them. At Bates Wells, we are very proud this year to have advised on the registration of Black Lives Matter as a community benefit society, and to have helped our clients James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam win against Uber in the first Supreme Court case concerning the status of individuals employed within the ‘gig economy’.  And we have been heartened by the multitude of other success stories across the sector – from campaigns to address a range of pressing structural inequalities, to the myriad campaigns for housing, food, and financial security for those most at need, civil society never lost its focus and drive even in the depths of the pandemic.

It is all the more impressive that these campaigning success stories have played out against a backdrop of an ever more difficult legal environment for campaigners to navigate. For some periods of the national lockdown, the public’s right to protest has been under question, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently making its way through Parliament would give the police the power to limit and restrict protests even when we return to normal life. The Government is currently reviewing the scope of judicial review and the Human Rights Act, both of which have been used by so many nominees for the National Campaigner Awards over the years to successfully challenge decisions made by public bodies.

At the same time, the so-called ‘culture wars’ are on-going, creating a more difficult space for campaigners from all sides to engage in a positive and productive discourse about the shape of our society.  And the Lobbying Act continues to require campaigners to jump through hoops, creating a widely acknowledged chilling effect on civil society, while failing to deal with in-house corporate lobbyists and conflicts of interest – as demonstrated so clearly by recent scandals.

The recent focus on David Cameron’s engagement with Greensill has emphasised again the urgency of revisiting and tightening the rules governing the transparency of lobbying, whilst also introducing a more balanced non-party campaigning law regime.  Having advised Lord Hodgson on his independent review of the Lobbying Act, we continue to be disappointed that even after detailed and thoughtful recommendations from a Conservative peer, five years later we seem to be no closer to the implementation of a more proportionate political and legal settlement in this area.

In these circumstances, it is no small relief that through the National Campaigner Awards, the Sheila McKechnie Foundation is able to shine a spotlight on campaigners who, despite these challenges, are fighting tooth and nail for what they believe in.

We at Bates Wells are thrilled to partner with the Sheila McKechnie Foundation to give a platform to the inspiring activists and campaigners who are making their voices heard in an increasingly difficult climate.

To all of the nominees, and to every campaigner using their voice for social good – from local mutual aid groups across the country, to international charities, and campaigners of all shapes and sizes in between – thank you.

Simon Steeden
Simon Steeden and Suhan Rajkumar are lawyers in Bates Wells’ Politics, Elections and Campaigning law team

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