The Access to Justice section of this site contains a number of reports of the oral evidence which Lord Bach’s Access to Justice Commission, of which I am a member, received in the first four months of this year. This was followed by nearly a hundred written submissions, covering a very wide range of issues.
Today the Commission is publishing a short Interim Report, to give a flavour of what will follow if the necessary funds can be raised to support the next phase of the Commission’s work.
So far as I know, in the absence of any Governmental interest, this independent Commission, administratively supported by the Fabian Society, is the only show in town at present taking a long, hard look at the damage done by the Coalition’ Government’s spending cuts and seeking ways to mitigate the worst of the damage.
This Press release was issued early this morning.
The justice system is in crisis: a set of minimum standards to which all are entitled must be established – suggests interim report of Bach Commission on Access to Justice
The justice system is in crisis, a report published today argues. Cuts to legal aid have created a two-tier justice system in which the poorest go without representation or advice. Minimum standards which ensure access to justice is a reality for all should be developed and enshrined in public policy.
Commenting on the report, Lord Bach, chair of the Bach Commission on Access to Justice, said:
“Our interim report shows that our justice system is creaking at the seams. The LASPO cuts have produced a crisis in the justice system and the poorest in our society can no longer receive the legal support they require.
This unacceptable state of affairs needs challenging and changing. This report is the starting point in our ongoing work to redesign the justice system so that it works for all. The Commission intends now to turn to working through the policy solutions to fix this crisis.”
Commenting on the report, Richard Burgon, shadow secretary of state for justice and shadow Lord Chancellor, said:
“Since 2010, the Conservatives have implemented unprecedented cuts to legal aid – putting justice beyond the reach of thousands. There is much of substance in the report, which will be welcome to all those who value the principle of access to justice.
I am particularly excited by the idea of enshrining in law a minimum standard for access to justice. A basic threshold for access to justice has the potential to be a historic advance in our law which could improve the lives of thousands.”
The crisis in the justice system in England and Wales is the interim report of the Bach Commission on Access to Justice, and is the product of a series of oral hearings and a public call for evidence which elicited responses from legal service users, providers, academics and many others.
The report outlines six core problems with the justice system:
- Fewer people can access financial support for a legal case
Most cases involving housing, welfare, debt, immigration, medical negligence and family law have been removed from scope, leaving those most in need without legal help.
- Exceptional case funding has failed to deliver for those in need
The exceptional case funding scheme, designed to mitigate the effects of cuts to legal aid, has failed to deliver with extremely low levels of take-up.
- Public legal education and legal advice are inadequate and disjointed
Support for public legal education continues to decline; the number of not-for-profit legal advice centres fell from around 3,226 in 2005 to 1,462 by 2015.
- High court and tribunal fees are preventing people pursuing legal claims
Employment tribunal fees were introduced in 2013, and in the months between October 2013 and June 2014 alone, the number of single cases fell by 67 per cent.
- Bureaucracy in the Legal Aid Agency is costly and time-consuming
While the overall budget of the Legal Aid Agency faces major cuts, the administration budget last year increased by £2.1 million.
- Out of date technologies keep the justice system wedded to the past
While Canada, the Netherlands and the United States are using new technologies to great effect, Britain is lagging behind.
The report also suggests future direction of travel for the Commission, setting out five areas for future policy work:
Establishing a set of minimum standards for access to justice in England and Wales to which all are entitled, enforced by an independent body
Reforming legal aid, including considering loosening eligibility criteria and changing the way it is administered
Transforming public legal education in schools and throughout life
Increasing the availability of legal advice
Increasing technological innovation