Categorized | Civil Law, Legal Aid

“Access to justice should be considered a fundamental right” – Corbyn

“Access to justice should be considered a fundamental right” – Corbyn

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on the government to initiate an immediate review of cuts to civil legal aid.

The coalition government reduced the scope of civil legal aid through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) and has committed to a review of the policy by April 2018.

The reforms reduced spending on civil legal aid by £300m a year, but the National Audit Office last year said the wider costs to the public sector had not been factored in because the Ministry of Justice did not anticipate how people would respond to the changes.

Writing for BarTalk, the Bar Council’s member e-newsletter, Corbyn argues that access to justice should be considered a ‘fundamental right’ which has been taken away from the poorest and most marginalised.

He writes: “As the government has stripped away security in social housing and made the benefits system more punitive it is often the poorest and most marginalised who find themselves unable to receive basic advice or representation when they face legal problems.

“Likewise the deeply concerning rise in unsecured personal debt means many low paid workers are struggling with unsustainable problems that require support and legal advice.”

Corbyn argues that “it is clear that the consequences of Part One of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) are disastrous, yet the Government refuses to review the way in which the Act is working. That review should be brought forward immediately and action should be taken to assist the most vulnerable.

“It must be clear to everyone by now that slashing legal aid in that way not only left thousands unable to get suitable legal advice but it also could have cost the state more in the long run.”

Justice minister Shailesh Vara last month rebuffed calls for an immediate review of Laspo, telling the House of Commons: “We constantly ensure that matters are kept under review. We are committed to having a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 three to five years after its implementation.”

Corbyn said that one of his first decisions was to invite Lord Willy Bach, the former Shadow Attorney General, to undertake an immediate review of the Government’s five year assault on Legal Aid. Other members of the commission have been selected for their experience and expertise in this area.

“Michael Gove has talked about the need to deliver a “one-nation justice system” which delivers access to all. I could not agree with him more but the Tory track record on this is one of utter failure,” he said.

“We will soon be issuing a call for written evidence for Lord Bach’s review through the Fabian Society which is collating the research,” he writes. “The Prime Minister has demonised you as fat-cats and ambulance chasers. I want to hear your voice and for you to play a part in our legal aid review.”

Corbyn concludes: “Legal aid has been referred to as the forgotten pillar of the welfare state. It is time to challenge that perception. The principles of access to justice and human rights for all is precisely for what Labour stands. That is what I stand for.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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