Shortly after he was elected as leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn asked Lord Bach to carry out a comprehensive review of legal aid, considering civil, crime, family and social welfare law. Lord Bach will be assisted in carrying out the review by Karl Turner MP. The terms of the review are as follows:
- To set out the principles that should be at the heart of the legal aid system.
- To develop a legal aid policy that is credible, principled and up to date.
- To look at the consequences of LASPO and the legal aid cuts.
- To influence the present government to make changes to their existing policies.
YLAL was invited to attend the launch of the Labour legal aid review at the Houses of Parliament on 3 November 2015. Our co-chairs, Ollie and Rachel, attended the meeting, as did YLAL founder Laura Janes. As well as Lord Bach and Karl Turner, the meeting was addressed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer. All of the speakers spoke passionately and positively about the importance of legal aid and access to justice. Lord Bach will chair a commission on legal aid which will invite oral and written evidence before a draft report is prepared by April 2016. We will contribute evidence to this commission once it is established.
You can read our detailed summary of the meeting at The Justice Gap here. Our briefing note for the meeting can also be accessed below. In the briefing note and at the meeting, we set out the following principles which we believe should be at the heart of the legal aid system:
- Equal access to justice irrespective of wealth is a constitutional right belonging to each citizen;
- The right of access to justice applies equally to civil and criminal law;
- Legal aid should be available for all categories of case in which important rights are at stake;
- Legal aid should be available to anyone who is unable to afford to pay for legal advice and representation (i.e. not just those normally classed as ‘poor’);
- The cost of the legal aid scheme should be borne by the state;
- Lawyers carrying out legal aid work should receive adequate remuneration for their services;
- The legal aid system should encourage social mobility and diversity in the legal profession; and
- The government has a duty of respect for the rule of law, which should be observed at all times.
In concluding, we said that we strongly believe that Labour's review of legal aid should be guided by the fundamental principle of access to justice for all. We believe that principle justifies and makes credible the systemic overhaul of the current legal aid system that is urgently required.
YLAL is grateful to Labour for committing to this review of legal aid and for inviting us to contribute. We are very pleased to help any party committed to improving access to justice and we look forward to working with Labour to develop its policy on legal aid.