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Next government must end threat to our justice system’s reputation

Bar Council

4 min read Partner content

In 2017 our system of justice has become fragile, warns the Bar Council manifesto. The next Government must ensure we support and strengthen its core values or risk our democratic way of life.


A fair society depends on a strong and effective system of justice.

It depends on every member of society as well as businesses and organisations, small and large, being able to turn to the Law for protection, for redress, for legal certainty and to establish their rights and freedoms. The Rule of Law underpins the fairness and solidarity of our society and our democratic way of life. 

The quality of any system of justice depends not only on the fairness of the law itself, but also on its accessibility. In 2017 the accessibility of our Law is under threat at home and abroad. The Bar Council has published a manifesto addressed to all who take an interest in the future of our justice system. It explains, in the public interest, what we need from our next elected government, and why.

The core values of our justice system

Over time we have built a reputation for the best quality of justice available anywhere in the world. This reputation was not accidentally acquired. It has been founded on six core values:

  • Judicial independence: by demonstrating our judges were independent, free from corruption, free from government pressure and robust in the face of attacks from the media.

  • Legal excellence: by valuing standards of excellence in judges, in legal practitioners, and all who serve the administration of justice.

  • Stewardship: by making proper investment in the infrastructure of justice - in court staff, buildings and administration, and by not charging excessive fees to those who want access to courts and tribunals.

  • Innovation: in a mixed economy: by enabling a mix between private and public funding of lawyers which ensured that everyone had access to the highest quality of representation and fostered an ethos of public service.

  • Humanity: by respecting the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society to ensure they had the means to achieve equality before the Law.

  • Open market for legal services: by enabling litigators all over the world to bring their cases to be tried in our courts, by avoiding protectionism and enabling our lawyers to trade freely and demonstrate their values and skills overseas. 

What must the next government do?

The next government must reverse this trend and restore our commitment to the six core values identified above. The fairness of our society and our international reputation for justice depend on this. Making the commitment should not depend on an upturn in the economy: it is too important to be left to that. Our economic growth and prosperity depend on the Rule of Law.

Justice is not a commodity and should never be a luxury available only to those who can afford to pay for it. Justice is not like any other public service. Nor should the belief take hold that a system of justice must pay for itself. Justice is not a business. It underpins the principles of liberty and democracy, the Rule of Law and our human rights and fundamental freedoms. The price we pay for justice should reflect the value we place on living in a just and ordered society. We should take pride in our justice system.

This is not to say that public expenditure on justice should be limitless. We look to the next government to invest in the administration of justice to ensure it is accessible to all and can be delivered efficiently and effectively.

To ensure that justice is available to all, the increasing diversity of our society should be reflected in the diversity of all who serve justice. Initiatives which promote under-represented groups in the professions and the judiciary should be supported by the Ministry of Justice. Working conditions for all court users should ensure that no under-represented group is deterred from participating in the administration of justice. We need to bring greater diversity to the judiciary.

 

Read the full manifesto here.

 

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