Ask your MP to protect the most the vulnerable in society by supporting legal aid and access to justice.
The Access to Justice Commission chaired by Labour peer Lord Bach released a damning interim report last week on “the crisis in the justice system of England and Wales”.
The report has received significant coverage, including in the Independent and the Guardian. YLAL’s response to the report was published by HuffPost UK and the Justice Gap. Lord Bach wrote for the Law Society Gazette about the need to build a cross-party consensus around access to justice to ensure that the justice system is once again affordable to all. Writing for the New Statesman, the Shadow Lord Chancellor, Richard Burgon, said legal aid cuts have been disastrous for the poor.
Young Legal Aid Lawyers invite you to build on the momentum of the report by emailing your MP to call on them to commit to supporting legal aid and access to justice. We have prepared a draft text for you to use below - feel free to personalise this if you would like to!
*Please make sure that you add your name and address at the bottom of this email, so that your MP knows that you are their constituent!*
You can find your MP's contact details here.
Dear [INSERT MP NAME]
I write to you as a constituent and a member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL).
In light of the interim report of the Bach Commission on Access to Justice, “The crisis in the justice system in England and Wales”, released on 25th November 2016, I am writing to you to ask you to commit to supporting legal aid and access to justice.
As a member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers, I believe that the provision of good quality publicly funded legal help is essential to protecting the interests of the vulnerable in society and upholding the rule of law. Following the legal aid cuts introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’), it is clear that access to justice has been severely limited – both in terms of the areas of law for which people can obtain publicly-funded legal advice and representation, and in relation to the proportion of people who are financially eligible for such legal help.
The report of the Bach Commission on Access to Justice highlights the devastating impact of the legal aid cuts introduced by LASPO. The report argues the cuts have created a two-tier justice system in which the poorest go without representation and advice. Chaired by Labour Peer Lord Bach, the Commission finds that “The narrower scope of legal aid has seriously damaged the ability of the legal system to uphold the principle of equality under the law, and thus the rule of law itself.” The report calls for a set of minimum standards to be established in law to ensure access to justice is a reality for all.
In his foreword to the report, Lord Bach emphasises the importance of an accessible justice system:
“Maintenance of the rule of law depends on the ability of all people to have basic equality of access to the law. If some cannot access justice because it is beyond their means, then the rule of law everywhere suffers.”
The report has received significant coverage, including in The Independent and The Guardian. YLAL’s response to the report was published by HuffPost UK and the Justice Gap. Lord Bach wrote for the Law Society Gazette about the need to build a cross-party consensus around access to justice to ensure that the justice system is once again affordable to all. Writing for the New Statesman, the Shadow Lord Chancellor, Richard Burgon, said legal aid cuts have been disastrous for the poor.
This follows numerous calls for an immediate review of the legal aid cuts, most recently by Amnesty International and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in their reports Cuts That Hurt and Justice Denied which add to the existing body of evidence that the cuts to legal aid have undermined access to justice. The government promised to review the legal aid cuts three to five years after they came into force in April 2013, but has not yet confirmed when the review will take place.
I welcome the Bach Commission’s report as an important contribution to the debate about how we can make access to justice a reality for all. That said, I believe that concrete action is needed urgently to protect access to justice in England and Wales.
I refer you to the Young Legal Aid Lawyer’s submission to the Bach Commission, which suggests the following practical steps:
1. Repeal LASPO, bring the areas of law which were removed from scope back into scope and return to a presumption that a case which satisfies the means and merits criteria is within the scope of legal aid except in limited categories which are specifically excluded;
2. Increase the thresholds and simplify the financial means tests for civil and criminal legal aid to ensure that legal aid is not reserved for only the poorest and most vulnerable in society, but rather is available to anyone who is unable to afford to pay for legal advice and representation; and
3. Conduct an independent and comprehensive review of the impact of court and tribunal fees on access to the courts and recognise that the cost of justice should be primarily borne by society as a whole, rather than by people using the courts to defend or protect their rights.
I therefore ask you, as my MP, to commit to supporting legal aid and access to justice. As your constituent, I would be grateful to hear your views on the proposals by the Bach Commission, the calls for a review of LASPO and how to improve access to justice.
I look forward to hearing from you.
[Your address and postcode]