A lawyer from Bristol has launched a phone app for people to activate when they are stopped and searched by the police.
The app will instantly record video and audio footage of the interaction with the police and upload it to a secure storage site with ‘military-grade encryption’.
And if the person stopped is then arrested, they can instantly alert legal advice and representation from a team of lawyers.
The app is being aimed at black and minority ethnic communities and has been developed by Michael Herford, who grew up in Bristol but is now a leading lawyer in London.
The 38-year-old said his digital platford ‘Legal Lifelines’ was a way to help young black people who were statistically more likely to get stopped and searched, and arrested, by police.
He said the Legal Lifelines platform was aimed at ‘supporting those from BAME communities and empowering them with knowledge of their legal rights and other issues that affect the community through a groundbreaking series of legal articles, webinars and other resources’.
“We know that BAME people, as well as minority communities such as travellers, are likely to experience disproportionately negative outcomes at work, or when engaging with the authorities,” said Mr Herford.
“We aim to empower them with the knowledge they need to protect themselves by bringing them critical information on legal issues that affect them such as Stop and Search, County Lines, Human Slavery and Protest Law.”
The platform, which involves a range of lawyers offering advice, includes the app. Mr Herford said the app has a unique function that allows users to record their interaction with police and ‘safely and securely store the footage using military grade encryption’.
“Should the user be arrested, they can immediately contact legal advice from one of the Legal Lifelines team,” he added.
Mr Herford was born at Southmead Hospital, grew up in Montpelier and went to Cotham School. He said his experiences growing up with a father of black Caribbean heritage and a white English mother had shaped his life.
His mum ran St Werburgh’s Community Centre for 11 years, and he said he was ‘infused with knowledge of how important community hubs were’, coupled with his father coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
He’s been a self-employed criminal lawyer for eight of the past ten years, and this was recognised by Legal 500, the prestigious law journal list.
“I feel so strongly about giving back to the community and why the Legal Lifelines team and our allies are determined to provide a national platform for the community to enable access to justice to many that feel isolated and targeted by the system,” he said.
“I myself have been stopped and searched and understand personally, how degrading and scary it can be when protocols are not followed by those conducting the search and other invasive operations.
“The webinar is the first in a series of providing tools of empowerment to the community we proudly want to serve,” he added.
“I had no help or connections and was often told I would not succeed and was not able to work in a challenging profession such as law,” he said.
“I need to work with my community to encourage young people to come forward and to believe they can have fulfilling lives as members of this society.
“Despite the challenges, together, we can do it! In community, we achieve unity, and in unity, we have strength. This initiative will change many lives and I believe will help save lives too,” he added.
Mr Herford said he’s been watching the summer’s events in Bristol with interest, as the city took centre stage for a time during the Black Lives Matter protests globally.
“The removal of Colston’s statue was a profoundly cathartic experience to many in the community and deeply symbolic,” he said.
“It was a very bittersweet experience too. As a history lover, the removal of a historic statue, which was interpreted by many as a crime, was history.
“Colston’s statue will be displayed and learned from in a museum, hopefully with an accurate plinth, rather than casting a shadow in the city centre where many revered him, not knowing of the grave atrocities he was responsible for,” he added.
Other events in the city over the years have spurred Mr Herford on. He cited the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi in Broomhill and the attack in prison on Mohammed Sharif, as examples of the discrimination and racist violence black and minority ethnic people still face in Bristol.
“This is the sad reality of life for many, both inside and outside of prison,” he said.
“People in prison are very vulnerable. BAME people are even more vulnerable as they can be attacked and discriminated against, purely because of their skin colour,” he added.
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