Labour Party manifesto: Bar Council response
Party politics has today shown it under-rates justice as an election issue, just as we foresaw in our own 'A Manifesto for Justice'.
Today's commitment from Labour to ensure legal representation 'remains available' to those who need it is, unfortunately, of little use since there is virtually no legal aid remaining for civil and family justice. What was needed was a promise to restore the cuts that have been made. Against that background, a commitment to the status quo is deeply disappointing and will leave many of the most vulnerable members of society without access to advice or representation.
We agree that legal representation is a 'corner stone of our democracy' and access to it should not be 'determined by personal wealth'. That encapsulates why legal aid is so important. But this manifesto will not help the 37,000 men and women who each year are now forced to represent themselves in court because of the cuts introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
Another missing commitment is access to justice for small businesses. Labour said it wants to 'strengthen the rules on late payment'. If that is so, why not promise to review the up-front court charges of up to £10,000 that small businesses will have to pay even to start proceedings to chase late payments?
Several manifesto pledges made today echo what the legal profession has been saying for some time, such as ending indefinite detention in asylum and immigration and widening access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence. We are pleased that commitments have been made to help these vulnerable groups who have suffered disproportionately.
Crucially, Labour has undertaken to "repair" the damage done to judicial review, which they rightly recognise to be a vital check for holding the Government to account. Our hope is that this will mean that they will repeal Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 in its entirety.
We cannot wave a magic wand and wish austerity away but why does justice remain un-protected from further cuts? This fact will be disappointing to thousands of men and women across the country who now have no effective access to justice. Instead they grapple, often in vain, with complex legal problems the outcomes of which will fundamentally change their lives.
Politicians are not taking justice seriously. Justice is not a benefit or a tax break, it underpins our way of life and protects everything for which we work so hard. Yet this point has not been articulated by party politics today.
View the Bar Council's 'Manifesto for Justice' here.