Lord Bach: It is high time to return to a fair and truly just system of access to justice
Everyone concerned with the reputation of the English Legal System will hope the Government have the courage to change Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act, says Lord Bach.
In Britain we pride ourselves that the Rule of Law makes us a civilised and mature country. However, acceptance of the Rule of Law is surely dependent on the citizen’s ability to get some access to justice at the time in their life when they need it.
There is an almost universal view that Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has turned out to be a disaster. The Act removed many areas of what is called social welfare law, that is sometimes described as ‘the law of everyday life’, for example Housing Law, Benefits Law, Debt Law, Employment Law and Immigration Law, out of the scope of Legal Aid. This has mean that for at least the last five and a half years, the many thousands of people who require legal advice and/or representation, but who do not have the money to pay for it, have been unable to obtain it, in other words, they have no access to justice.
The Ministry of Justice is currently reviewing the Act, and have promised to make public their findings before the end of the year. That was the clear answer I received from the Minister in answer to my question on November 12 in the House of Lords.
Everyone concerned with the reputation of the English Legal System will hope the Government have the courage to change Part 1, so that for example those who are struggling with Universal Benefit can obtain free legal advice, if their means require it.
Perhaps, above all there is a need for legal aid for early legal advice, whether in the fall of family law or some welfare law, for too long now, the unlikely to get early advice has mean not just lack of access to justice, but has also clogged up our courts with litigants in person, and far from solving people’s legal problems has made them much worse. It is high time to return to a fair and truly just system of access to justice.
Willy Bach was the Chair of the Bach Commission into Legal Aid and Access to Justice entitled ‘The Right to Justice’ and published by the Fabian Society. He served as Legal Aid Minister between 2008 and 2010.
Lord Bach is a Labour member of the House of Lords.