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Andrew Caplen hits out at restrictions to access to justice at GLS

'The rule of law is an empty concept without access to justice'

24 February 2015

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The president of the Law Society has used his appearance at the Global Law Summit (GLS) to reinforce his opposition to government's reforms to the legal system.

Speaking at a plenary session at the GLS on the globalisation of sport, Andrew Caplen said: "The major theme that I have taken as president is the all-important subject of access to justice. This is of great relevance as we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta. Magna Carta is rightly regarded as being the foundation of the rule of law in this country.

"Yet if there is not access to justice, the rule of law is just an empty concept. Because without it there is no way that rights can be exercised or duties enforced."

At the start of the week, the Law Society - in conjunction with the Bar Council, CILEx and others - issued a pre-action protocol letter to the government instigating the first stage of judicial review proceedings to challenge plans to hike court fees by 600 per cent.

Recent data collected from approximately 200 solicitors found that the total value of cases brought by individuals would likely fall by around one-third under higher court fees. In addition, claims brought by small and medium-sized companies would halve.

These figures suggest an increase in court fees could have a significant impact on access to justice for both individuals and businesses, as fewer could afford to pay higher rates.

Lawyers have not been afraid to use the GLS as a forum to attack the government's agenda of reforming the legal system.

Yesterday, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), Tony Cross QC argued in another GLS session that the coalition government was showing "contempt" for the rule of law.

Meanwhile, outside the GLS, the Justice Alliance completed a 64 mile march from Runneymede which culminated in a rally outside the Palace of Westminster called 'Not the Global Law Summit' (NTGLS) in which the Lord Chancellor was heavily criticised for cuts to legal aid.

Matt Foot, co-founder of the Justice Alliance, said: "We wanted to bring together all the people who believe in justice and the fourth pillar of the welfare states' legal aid, to celebrate the principles of the Magna Carta which have been glaringly committed from the brochure of the summit."

Maxine Peake, star of the legal drama 'Silk', also came out in support of the NTGLS and commented: "It's all too easy to talk about access to justice and the lofty principles of the rule of law. All too easy to host a glitzy event so that Corporate Britain plc can bask in the glow of Magna Carta.

"But almost 800 years on, I'm not interested in the gloss. Because of massive legal aid cuts, I'm worried about people who haven't got lots of money being able to defend themselves fairly if they're accused of a crime. I'm concerned about the state becoming less accountable and I'm worried about courts becoming affordable and accessible only to the rich."

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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