This is Young Legal Aid Lawyers' submission to the call for written evidence by the Bach Commission on Access to Justice, which was set up by Lord Bach after he was asked by Jeremy Corbyn to carry out a comprehensive review of legal aid for the Labour Party, considering civil, crime, family and social welfare law.
The terms of the review are:
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.
Young Legal Aid Lawyers 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.
We believe that currently access to justice is 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. We believe this is demonstrated by the vast removal of areas of law from scope by Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, stringent means testing for eligibility for legal aid, and the increase in litigants in person.
We suggest that the following practical steps to improve access to justice:
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;
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
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.
Our full submission to the Bach Commission is attached.