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Lawyers respond to Lord Chancellor’s ‘One Nation’ justice policy

Plugging the legal aid gap with pro bono is unsustainable as a long-term solution

23 June 2015

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An attention-catching speech by the new Lord Chancellor has failed to elicit celebratory cheers from the legal profession.

Michael Gove's first public speech outlined his proposals for reform of the justice system, including a review of the court estate, the introduction of new technology solutions, and a call for more pro bono services from lawyers.

Jo Edwards, chair of family law organisation Resolution, said she welcomed any move that improves the experience of people accessing the courts.

'We're also pleased there's an acknowledgement that the court system is not working as it should all of the time and that civil justice is beset by delays and inefficiencies, which reflects what our members have said to us about their clients' experience,' she added.

'Cuts to legal aid have left many people with little or no access to justice, and many domestic abuse victims and other vulnerable people struggle to get the legal help they need to face the courts.'

Edwards said that she also agreed with the Lord Chancellor that justice should not be the sole preserve of the wealthy.

'I hope this statement signals a change of direction from the new government, as removing legal aid has exacerbated the 'justice gap' in this country significantly over the past few years,' she added.

'Pro bono legal services are plugging many gaps at the moment, but expecting the legal profession to deliver free services as a matter of course, as Mr Gove has suggested, is unsustainable as a long term solution.'

Meanwhile, Jeremy Robson, a senior lecturer of Nottingham Law School at Nottingham Trent University, said that Gove's speech offered a glimmer of hope for legal aid lawyers that they may face some respite to the government's 'ruthless cuts'.

'There is an indication as well that more is going to be expected from those who have prospered in commercial practice,' he added. 'The details on how this will be achieved are scant and the Lord Chancellor must appreciate that each area of law requires its own skill set and expertise and any involvement of those high earners must be approached with view to ensuring the public receive proper representation.'

#Gove's proposal that pro-bono could ease strain on #legalaid is like saying a plaster will fix a brain haemorrhage.

— Miranda Ching (@protestlawyer) June 23, 2015

Nobody, as far as I’m aware, has suggested addressing issues in NHS or housing market by calling for pro bono doctors or estate agents.

— Michael Reed (@reedmj) June 23, 2015

Commenting on Gove's plans to introduce new technology solutions to the court system, Edwards remarked: 'While the introduction of telephone and video hearings and online dispute resolution could potentially alleviate some of the issues in the family courts, we'd also sound a note of caution when talking about the use of technology in civil justice.

'The most recent experience of a government online legal aid administration system that's been beset by delays and the need for improvements suggest that any online solutions would need to be very carefully thought out, implemented and properly resourced. People feel the impact of family court proceedings for the rest of their lives - their matters deserve proper attention and consideration.'

If the Lord Chancellor wants his proposals to succeed, said Robson, then he will need the support and the trust of the legal profession, which can only be won through dialogue and a commitment to investment in both resources and staff.

Pro bono is important but you can't run a #legalaid system on pro bono. #betterjustice requires a fair and accessible legal aid system

— Kersty McCourt (@KerstyMcCourt) June 23, 2015

Gove refers to coalition providing #legalaid for victims of #domesticabuse. But @citizensadvice we see many denied

— Imogen Parker (@ImogenParker) June 23, 2015

One virtue of Mr Gove catapulting Justice onto the front pages is that if (when) things go wrong everyone will know who's in charge.

— Max Hardy (@maxbarrister) June 23, 2015

'I have a tenancy dispute/adoption issue...' City Lawyer: I can do a securtisation bond for you. Pointless.

— Jack of Kent (@JackofKent) June 23, 2015

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Legal Aid