Election: prioritise broken justice system, says Law Society
The Law Society challenged the UK’s leading political parties to put the rule of law and access to justice at the heart of their plans for government, warning our “broken” justice system is in crisis after years of neglect. Announcing its election manifesto on 18 November, Law Society president Simon Davis warned: “There are things that urgently need Žxing in our justice system.
The party that wins this election needs to focus on this or we will lose something fundamental.” He said the general election on 12 December will be a “pivotal moment” for British justice, not only for the country, adding: “Successive governments have stripped back provision of legal aid and left our justice system in a dangerously under-funded state.” Davis said: “Our legal system has long been seen as the global benchmark and our members Žght the corner of some of the most vulnerable in society, including those struggling with mental health issues or personal hardship.” In its manifesto, the Society said “a well-functioning criminal justice system is crucial to ensure victims of crime get justice, those accused of a crime are given a fair trial and public funds are used e®ciently”. The Conservative party’s manifesto had not been published at the time of writing. Labour’s manifesto acknowledges the crisis in the criminal justice system and states a Labour government will defend the rule of law and “halt court closures and cuts to sta© ”.
The Law Society called on the next government to implement speciŽc measures around three key issues: funding and access to justice, post-Brexit and technology. It wants an independent economic review of the long-term viability of criminal legal aid, a real term rise in fees for criminal legal aid and a guarantee of no future real term cuts in criminal legal aid. Civil legal aid to allow access to early advice from housing and family solicitors should also be reinstated, with the Society saying this would help stop cases escalating unnecessarily and allow for earlier resolution. It also challenged the next government to increase the civil legal aid means test thresholds and remove the capital test for individuals on incomerelated beneŽts. The Society stressed its long held concerns for the profession after the UK has left the EU, calling for the next government to work on maintaining and preserving the UK’s attractiveness as a global legal centre after Brexit.
It wants a future relationship secured with Europe that “allows lawyers to continue to practise and base themselves in the EU” – preferably through an association agreement. Davis said: “Preserving the legal sector’s strong economic contribution to UK plc will require close co-operation with the EU and the continued ability of UK lawyers to practise, establish and provide temporary services on the continent.” The Law Society also challenged the incoming government to lead on new technology as it can “play a key role” in widening access to justice. According to its economic analysis of the lawtech sector, the Society said faster adoption of new lawtech will reduce the cost of legal services to UK business users by £350m by 2030, and could more than double productivity growth in the sector per year. While conceding that technology is not a silver bullet, the Society called for the implementation of measures such as tax incentives for law Žrms adopting lawtech and improving law tech Žrms’ accessibility of legal data. The LawTech Delivery Panel’s deŽnition of lawtech should also be adopted, said the Society, to ensure lawtech is recognised as a distinct sector for the purposes of investment, development and procurement