Access to justice
The Bar Council continued to impress upon Government the importance of honouring its commitment to carrying out a full review of the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) on access to justice, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
“We know that successive cuts to legal aid and substantial increases in court fees have restricted access to legal representation for the most vulnerable in society. What we don’t know is the extent of the problems now faced, and no assessment has been carried out of how these cuts have impacted the individuals and communities affected.
“Future reform, including the greater use of technology throughout HMCTS, has the potential to improve our justice system for ordinary citizens, but before implementing further reform, we must have a clear understanding as to the current state of our justice system, and the extent to which the problems we face have been caused by past reforms - in particular, the cuts to social welfare and family legal aid and the increased court fees.”
- Chair of the Bar 2016, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, October 2016
In January 2017, the Government committed to producing a full post-implementation review by April 2018.
The Bar Council argued that the Government’s plans should not limit access to, or the quality of, justice.
“It is our view that the physical courtroom should always be the default forum for criminal litigation. The consequences of any diminution in parties’ ability to follow proceedings or understand each other are serious”.
- Bar Council Second Reading briefing on the Prisons and Courts Bill
Responding to the publication of County Court statistics in 2016, the Bar Council highlighted the impact that court fees were having on access to justice for small businesses.
“Small businesses seeking debt owed to them by customers (who are often other businesses they supply) can turn to County Court Judgments as a last resort to get the money owed to them. However, by increasing court fees, the Government has cut off those small businesses’ only real and last hope of getting that money, which is vital given how important cash flow is to SMEs. They are being priced out of court.”
– Chair of the Bar 2016, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, Financial Times, August 2016
London Legal Walk
The Bar Council took part in the May 2016 London Legal Walk, with Bar Council and BSB staff raising a record £1,427.26. The money goes to the London Legal Support Trust, which works to assist law centres and legal advice agencies in London and the South East by providing them with grant funding, alongside other forms of support.
The Bar Council’s publication, ‘The Value of Justice’ was published in advance of the General Election 2017 and warned that continued cuts to legal aid, (including LASPO, which removed entire areas of law from within scope), mean that the UK is in danger of developing a two-tier system of justice.
The loss of nearly £1bn legal aid support has effectively disenfranchised a whole sector of society from obtaining access to justice. Government should reintroduce legal aid to assist vulnerable citizens who are currently left to fend for themselves.
– The Value of Justice, The Bar Council
In 2017 the Bar Council commissioned research from Dr Anna Lindley of SOAS University of London to investigate the impact of legal aid cuts introduced by LASPO on immigrants held in detention. The research will feed into the Bar Council’s work on the quality of decision-making by public authorities.
Contact and further information
The Bar Council
289-293 High Holborn