The Labour Campaign for Human Rights (LCHR) is calling on the Labour Party to commit to a fully-funded and reformed legal aid system by adopting the recommendations of the Bach Commission on Access to Justice in full.
The report was commissioned by the Fabian Society and has the backing of Lord Falconer, Andy Slaughter MP, and grassroots groups like the Society of Labour Lawyers. Its recommendations would help reverse the Conservative government’s cuts to legal aid and improve the right to justice for millions of vulnerable people across the UK.
After almost a decade of cuts, legally aided matters have fallen from over 900,000 (2009/10) to less than 15,000 (2017/18), and the number of not-for-profit legal advice centres has more than halved in 10 years. While nearly a million people are living in areas where there is no legal aid provision for housing, and a further 15 million in areas with only one provider.
Shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon MP, committed to reform in 2018, but no further action has been taken. LCHR are now calling for the shadow justice team to adopt the recommendations in full as party policy and to include them in Labour’s next manifesto.
The recommendations include legislating for a new Right to Justice Act, which would establish a right to reasonable legal assistance that would be legally enforceable in the courts, as well as broadening the scope of civil legal aid and the legal aid eligibility rules. This would allow more people to access legal advice across the UK.
Matthew Turner, chair and executive director of the LCHR said: “Rights granted to British citizens are meaningless unless they can be enforced in the courts. That is why we are calling on Labour to treat the right to justice as a fundamental human right. Legal aid cannot be seen as a fringe issue.”
Labour MP and former barrister Andy Slaughter said that the Government’s own review had found that legal aid has been cut well below effective levels but it was still unwilling to act.
Former Lord Chancellor and secretary of state for justice Lord Falconer said it was critical that Labour commit to restoring legal aid to levels that mean the poorest in society have genuine access to the law.
He added: “At the moment only the rich have those protections, and safeguards must be built in which stop any future government from dismantling those protections.”