You are here

Lord Chancellor: Leading law firms must do more pro bono

The UK legal market has made a large number of organisations, and individuals very successful, says Gove

23 June 2015

Add comment

Michael Gove has used his first public speech as Lord Chancellor to argue that the most successful members of the legal profession should do more to protect access to justice as the government forges ahead with cuts to criminal legal aid.

Speaking this morning at the Legatum Institute, Gove unveiled the government's 'One Nation' justice policy to combat a justice system rife with inequality.

Defending the coalition government's record on justice issues - and his predecessor's controversial policies - on account of the deficit, the new Lord Chancellor said that 'justice cannot be blind to the fact that while resources are rationed at one end of our justice system rewards are growing at the other end'.

'The [UK's] global leadership in legal services…has made a large number of organisations, and individuals, in this country very successful,' he said.

'There is no doubt that in the market for legal expertise, we are reaping the benefits of Britain's huge competitive advantage. But the law is more than a marketplace, it is a community; the legal profession is more than a commercial enterprise, it is a vocation for those who believe in justice being done.'

Gove added that those who had benefited financially from the UK's legal culture needed to invest in its roots.

'I know that many of the most prestigious chambers at the Bar and many of the top solicitors' firms already contribute to pro bono work and invest in improving access to the profession,' he continued. Many of our leading law firms have committed to give 25 hours pro bono on average per fee earner each year.'

Gove said that while this was welcome, much more needed to be done. Referencing a survey by the Law Society which showed that 16 per cent of in-house solicitors provided at least one hour of pro bono work, the Lord Chancellor continued: 'When it comes to investing in access to justice then it is clear to me that it is fairer to ask our most successful legal professionals to contribute a little more rather than taking more in tax from someone on the minimum wage.'

Legal aid cuts necessary

The Lord Chancellor said that legal aid remains a vital element in any fair justice system and that there was a responsibility on government to make sure those in need can access justice.

'I know how controversial the changes we have had to make to legal aid have been,' he added. 'But I also believe that those changes need to be judged fairly. The coalition government sought to make sure legal aid remained available for critically important cases.

'And when I came to office I made sure that the changes my predecessor had put in place to guarantee access to legal advice across the country were implemented. I also made sure that the criminal Bar were protected from further cuts so that the high quality advocacy they provide could be supported.'

Gove remarked that change was required to save money and that no government minister could avoid thinking about how to deal with the 'massive deficit'. However, the Lord Chancellor added that he would monitor the effects of changes to legal aid.

Categorised in:

Legal Aid The Bar