Searching for Justice – How can we help those who have been failed by the state?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”– Martin Luther King Jr
On 4th February 2021, the Society of Asian Lawyers and Association of Muslim Lawyers jointly hosted an online event “Searching for Justice – How can we help those who have been failed by the State?”
The event sought to shine a light on family justice campaigns and why they are necessary and how we can all get involved.
The case of Shukri Abdi
We heard from Attiq Malik, solicitor for the family of Shukri Abdi. Shukri Abdi tragically drowned in the River Irwell in Bury, Greater Manchester on 27 June 2019. A group of children were with her at the river in the period before she died. A Coroner in December 2020 concluded that the death was accidental and not unlawful.
Attiq commented that in a country that professes to have the greatest legal system in the world, one would be forgiven for thinking that the pursuit of justice would be easy and straight forward. However, this is often not the case. Some people cannot access justice. This was certainly the case for Shukri Abdi’s family who were a migrant/refugee family with limited means and as a result of cuts to public funding, the family had difficulty initially finding legal representation.
The family were met with a Police Force hesitant to carry out a full and thorough investigation at the outset. As far as the Police were concerned there was no case – nothing to answer. It was an accidental death.
Justice takes many forms. The first form, and for the family the most important, was to establish the truth. The narrative given to them by the Police did not make sense to the family. Without the truth the family cannot rest and it is only when the truth is uncovered that families can seek justice.
The truth was uncovered at the Inquest for Shukri Abdi. Up until then, the Abdi family had been let down by the authorities who had failed to investigate her death and failed to establish the truth of what had happened at the River Irwell on 27th June 2019.
While the painful fight for the truth may be over the fight for justice continues.
Please follow and support the Justice for Shukri campaign:
Natasha Thompson from the Charity INQUEST spoke about the fight to get to the truth and how this is invariably a long process. She wanted to remind everyone that in family justice campaigns, it is important to support the family. Public support can fall away once the initial excitement has gone.
People forget and move on or go about their everyday lives, leaving the family to shoulder the burden of the campaign alone.
INQUEST is a campaigning charity entering its 40th year and families are at the centre of the work they do. Its goal is to end all state related deaths.
There is no automatic right to representation after death. Public funding is available but is very limited and the process is difficult and drawn out. However, families should always try to push for public funding.
You can support and get involved with the following campaigns:
The National Mikey Powell Family Fund – This fund is the first permanent national resource for those affected by deaths of people in custody, making small grants available to families and their campaign groups across the UK.
United Families & Friends Campaign
Legal Aid for Inquests
Other useful links:
The case of Ricky Reel
We were very privileged to hear from Sukhdev Reel and her daughter Tish Reel on their continuing fight for justice. Sukhdev’s son, Ricky was found dead 7 days after a night out in Kingston-Upon-Thames on 14 October 1997. The Police said it had been an accident, despite there being reports that Ricky and his friends had been the victims of a racist attack earlier that evening.
“Why do we need to set up justice campaigns? Why do we have to fight so hard for justice? Because the people who are meant to give us justice, don’t.”– Sukhdev Reel
Sukhdev’s fight has been a long one and started that night in October 1997. She says that that night a mother also died and a campaigner was born. Due to the inaction of the Police, the family formed search parties and started looking for Ricky themselves. Sukhdev would spend long days walking around Kingston-Upon-Thames making enquiries and physically searching the streets. The Police did not investigate Ricky’s death as a racist attack.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, instead of helping and supporting the Reel family, the Police spied on them and obstacles have been erected in the Reel family’s way ever since. The Police made assumptions and stereotyped the family based on their race. CCTV footage from the city centre cameras was lost and the family even had to commission their own post mortem report to challenge the Police.
The Inquest recorded an open verdict.
Sukhdev has since been very active and has spoken at countless events and platforms raising awareness for her son’s campaign. She is petitioning for the Police to carry out a new investigation into the death of her son, Ricky Reel. The Petition has received 85,504 signatures in support so far. Once this reaches 100,000 signatures, the matter must be debated in Parliament. Please show your support by signing the Petition and sharing with your friends, family and colleagues.
The Justice for Reel campaign needs your support! The Reel family will not stop until they learn the truth of what happened that fateful night.
Family justice campaigns can be exhausting for the families – mentally, emotionally and financially. All the families involved with these types of justice campaigns need our help and support. We heard about a few campaigns at this event and we hope it has opened your eyes and pushes you in lending your support. We can do this in a variety of ways but the most important thing right now is to continue raising awareness of these campaigns. So long as we keep talking about it, keep asking questions the family will feel supported and there is hope that one day, justice will be delivered to these families. We would urge you all you read up on family justice campaigns and talk to your families and friends. And please, sign the Justice4Reel petition.
WHAT WE CAN ALL DO NOW:
· Read and sign the Justice4Reel petition
· Support all family justice campaigns
· Support the families
· Follow the charity, INQUEST and sign up for their news e-letter
· Spread the word
· Stop being fearful
· Get rid of the imposter syndrome
· Stand up and fight for Justice!
Ranjit Sond is a solicitor at the Government Legal Department and President of the Society of Asian Lawyers