Full steam ahead for Bach Commission
Independent inspectorate into access to justice key feature of final report, says silk
Lord Bach’s commission on access to justice plans to publish its final report ‘as quickly as possible’ after securing the funding needed to carry out more research and enhance its policy solutions.
While no precise date was given, John Cooper QC told Solicitors Journal that it was ‘full steam ahead’ for the commission given the outcome of the recent general election, which resulted in a hung parliament after the Conservative party fell eight seats short of a House of Commons majority.
‘We plan to publish the report as quickly as possible with a full range of proposals. We’re acting with even more urgency because we could be in government within months,’ said the 25 Bedford Row silk.
‘The funding is now resolved having been ably supported by the Fabian Society as secretariat [of the commission] and we’re now coming to the end of our public hearings and the last evidence taking session is later this month.’
The commission’s interim report was published last November and included proposals to improve public legal education, reform legal aid eligibility criteria, and increase funding for legal advice centres. One suggested proposal was the introduction of an independent inspectorate into access to justice, a plan that will be central to the final report, said Cooper.
‘We are recommending an independent inspectorate of government into access to justice, whereby if the stated government proposals of access to justice – whether legal aid, physical solicitors on the ground, or any other aspect – is not adhered to then the inspectorate will have powers to press government to deliver on stated access to justice objectives. Those powers are currently being worked on.’
On the issue of extra legal aid funding, Cooper said the commission recognised there would be ‘no bottomless pit’ but said the recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower block had highlighted the potential need for extra funding.
In the early hours of Wednesday (14 June) morning the 24-storey tower block in West London became engulfed in flames. So far, 30 people have been confirmed dead with many others taken to hospital. Residents had previously expressed their concerns over the health and safety of the building.
Pilgrim Tucker, a London resident who worked with Grenfell residents for several months trying to get the local council to act on resident concerns, told BBC 2 programme Newsnight that legal aid cuts had prevented residents from taking legal action. However, housing lawyers have since said that a ‘housing law lacuna’ had in fact prevented residents from taking action, not cuts to legal aid.
Cooper said improved access to housing law advice was vital going forward. ‘I’m sure that incident will impact upon our thoughts. While we’re aware there is no bottomless money pit, we’re also aware there has to be proper provision for people to get access to justice and there is an end to legal aid deserts where there are no legal aid solicitors on housing law. That’s very prescient at the moment and needs to be addressed.’
Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal