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Labour launches immediate review into legal aid

Lord Bach will look at proposals for reforming legal aid

22 September 2015

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Labour is to take the fight to the Tories over legal aid and access to justice issues, announcing it is to undertake an immediate review into legal aid, headed by the party's former shadow attorney general, Lord Willy Bach.

The party has slammed the former coalition government's reforms to legal aid as having had a disastrous impact on access to justice, which has left many without access to legal help or representation.

Lord Bach's immediate review will look at the wider consequences of government reforms and put forward policy proposals for reforming legal aid for the 21st century.

'This review will allow the issues to be debated and attention to be drawn to the disproportionate impact that the lack of help and advice available is having on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society,' remarked Labour's shadow Lord Chancellor and justice secretary, Lord Falconer.

Responding to his appointment, Lord Bach commented: 'Access to legal help and representation is a cornerstone of the rule of law and the mark of a decent society, but the government's reforms have left too many people unable to enforce their rights. I look forward to working with colleagues, members of legal profession, and those affected by the cuts to address this crucial issue.'

The new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said the government's assault on legal aid had 'resulted in many of our fellow citizens, often the poor and marginalised, not being able to get advice or representation when they are faced with legal problems such as housing, welfare benefits, debt, and employment.

'Even though it is clear that the consequences of Part One of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) are disastrous, the government refuses to review the way in which the Act is working,' he added.

Corbyn continued: 'Willy Bach, who is a member of the shadow justice team, will also, as a part of the review, look at policy choices for Labour, so that Britain can once again have the prospect of a legal aid system worthy of our country and our legal tradition.'

Karl Turner, Labour's shadow solicitor general, will also join the justice team to work on legal aid and criminal justice issues.

'Having practised as a criminal lawyer prior to entering parliament in 2010, I have seen first-hand the damaging changes that the Tory government has made to legal aid and access to justice,' he said.

'We saw in the last parliament the Tories' assault on legal aid that has left many of the most vulnerable in our society without any legal advice and assistance. It is up to Labour to make sure that we take the fight to the Tories and make sure that access to justice is made available to all, not just the well off.'

Turner added that he looked forward to working with the legal profession to ensure the government was held to account on legal aid and criminal justice issues.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD

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Legal Aid