Bar Council: Access to justice should be enshrined in statute
Representative body calls for enhanced court fees to be removed ahead of Queen's Speech
Access to justice for the most vulnerable in society should be enshrined in statute, the Bar Council has declared.
Ahead of today's Queen's Speech, the Bar called for legislation to provide access to legal advice and representation for those most in need to uphold their rights as UK citizens.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) has left hundreds of thousands without proper legal advice in crucial areas such as family, welfare, and debt problems. It is estimated that the number of legally aided cases has been reduced by over 400,000 per year.
As a result, there has been an increasing number of self-represented individuals, which is placing the court system under unprecedented strain.
The representative body also called for enhanced civil court fees, increased last year by 622 per cent, to be removed. Since 1 March 2015, a court fee of 5 per cent must be paid for claims worth £10,000 or more.
Claimants are now being asked to pay more to use the courts than they cost to run, a measure the council claims has been adopted to cross-subsidise other parts of the courts and tribunal service, and which should be funded through general taxation.
In addition to placing wealthier parties at an unfair advantage in litigation, the Bar suggested that enhanced court fees run the risk of diminishing the attractiveness of the UK as a destination for international litigation, arbitration, and dispute resolution.
The representative body is in favour of online court proposals to accommodate marginalised citizens who may have restricted access to the necessary technology.
However, there are fears that too much stock is being placed into the proposed digital upgrades. In February, the Law Society said online courts were not a panacea and that it would strongly oppose any approach that reduces access to justice.
The Bar also recommended the government avoid any measures that could weaken or undermine the independence of the legal profession.
Finally, a panel scheme for defence advocates was put forward to ensure clients are represented in criminal proceedings by the advocate who is best qualified - not through financial incentives.