Stephen Cragg, Public Law Project

The charity's chair tells Kaye Wiggins he is driven by his commitment to rights

Stephen Cragg
Stephen Cragg

Stephen Cragg, a barrister and chair of the Public Law Project, a charity that offers legal support to those facing poverty or discrimination, is a firm believer in linking his charitable efforts to his professional skills.

"I can't imagine chairing a charity that wasn't linked to the work I do professionally," he says. "Essentially, my work is about human rights and that is the area in which I have a bit of expertise. I just don't think I'd be much good at chairing a different type of charity."

Cragg was appointed as chair in 2008, after only a few months as a trustee. He had worked for the charity between 1993 and 1996 as a solicitor, the first it had employed.

"There was a break between then and 2008 when I wasn't involved with the Public Law Project," he says. "In that time I was working and having children. By 2008, I felt ready to give a bit more time back to the Public Law Project as a trustee.

"I think it's good to have a gap between being an employee and becoming a trustee."

The organisation was set up in 1990 with the aim of improving access to public law for people whose access would otherwise be restricted by poverty or discrimination.

Since then, it has succeeded in forcing Ealing Council in west London to reconsider a plan to remove specialist provision of domestic violence services for ethnic minority groups, in a case brought by the voluntary group Southall Black Sisters.

It has also won a Court of Appeal ruling that carers of children under a residence order have the same entitlement as other parents to Sure Start maternity grants.

"With the cuts to legal aid and to public services more generally, I think the kind of services we provide have become more important," Cragg says. "The board will be looking to expand the charity as much as we can, largely by looking for more funding from grant-making trusts."

Cragg says the charity has a list of the types of cases it is likely to take on. "At the moment, it tends to be cases concerning cuts to services and access to justice," he says. "But sometimes we do things that are less direct. Last year, we threatened to bring legal action against the courts service because we believed it was failing to provide the right number of courts and judges, which was causing damaging delays in the legal process."

Cragg says that, despite his professional expertise in the field, he avoids working on the Public Law Project's cases himself. "As a barrister, I've been instructed once on a case, but in general I think it is best for trustees to stay one step removed from the cases," he says.

He says the Public Law Project's trustees share the same passion for supporting marginalised groups, but come from a wide range of professional backgrounds. "We're not all lawyers," he says. "We have a trustee who works in public relations, one who is a campaigner on health issues and one who is active in a disability group."

Cragg says the charity is careful to remain politically neutral, but believes it has an important role in highlighting to central and local government the impact of decisions to cut funding.

"We can't be politically partisan, and of course we have taken actions against local authorities led by different political parties," he says. "But we do have to be clear about saying the current spending cuts will hit certain groups of disadvantaged people more heavily than others. There needs to be a rethink about that."

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