Nice work for top QCs, bad news for developers

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The Independent Online

As well as claimants, several high-profile law firms are expected to benefit from work generated by human rights cases - worth an estimated £100m in fees in the coming months alone.

As well as claimants, several high-profile law firms are expected to benefit from work generated by human rights cases - worth an estimated £100m in fees in the coming months alone.

These include Cherie Booth, wife of the Prime Minister, who was involved in setting up Matrix chambers in May to deal with human rights issues.

As one of the country's most high-profile Queen's Counsel, Ms Booth is estimated to earn up to £400,000 in a good year, and will be working with other big names such as Michael Beloff QC, a family friend who advised the former minister Geoffrey Robinson about his offshore trust.

Also involved in the battle to build Britain's leading human rights chambers is Michael Mansfield QC at Tooks Court, which he founded during the miners' strike in 1984.

His chambers has recruited eight barristers, including Lawrence Kershen QC, who has successfully represented sado-masochists in the European Court of Human Rights.

Another chamber synonymous with human rights cases is Doughty Street, which boasts the considerable experience of QCs Helena Kennedy and Geoffrey Robertson.

Last night, Mr Mansfield called for a Human Rights Commission to be set up to advise people on how claims can be made under the new legislation and to monitor claims.

"It's the public for whom this has been passed and not for the lawyers," he added. "There are still people who will not recognise that they have these rights and these people need to be informed."

His views were shared by Richard Arthur, head of human rights at Thompsons solicitors, who also dismissed fears that the Human Rights Act would lead to "crank" claims.

"There are cases stacked up ready for the implementation of the Act," he said. "The sky will still be blue tomorrow, but there will be an awful lot of people who have not prepared themselves. This is not a cranks' charter - that is very far off the mark. This is about fundamental rights of the individual, and the main change will be a cultural one in how people view their rights."

As well as enhancing individual rights, the new law may bring about a radical change in the way urban redevelopment is managed. People who face losing their homes from local authority compulsory purchase orders will be given strong powers to defend their property.

The new law states that people should be entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their property. Legal experts claim that homeowners could make use of this clause to resist a purchase order.

Stephen Turnbull, a partner at law firm Addleshaw Booth, said: "From Monday, any person affected by a compulsory purchase order who takes legal advice will use the Human Rights Act to try to overturn the order." He argued that unless a local authority could prove that a purchase order was in the public interest it would "fall foul of the act".

Local authorities use compulsory purchase powers to "assemble" sites for development. Urban regeneration experts fear it could harm scores of projects. Phil Kirby, head of property at BG, once British Gas, which wants to redevelop its vacant industrial sites, said: "This could crucify urban regeneration schemes."