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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Prioritise broken justice system, says Law Society

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Prioritise broken justice system, says Law Society

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The Law Society has challenged the UK’s leading political parties to place the rule of law and access to justice at the heart of their government plans.

The Law Society has challenged the UK’s leading political parties to place the rule of law and access to justice at the heart of their government plans.

It warned that our “broken” justice system is in crisis following years of under-investment and neglect.

Announcing its election manifesto on 18 November, Law Society president Simon Davis warned: “There is a crisis, and there are things that urgently need fixing in our justice system.

“The party that wins this election needs to focus on this or we will lose something fundamental.”

He described the general election, to be held on 12 December, as a “pivotal moment” for British justice and 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.”

The Conservative Party had not published its election manifesto at the time of writing, but.

Labour’s manifesto is expected to be launched on Thursday 21 November.

Davis said: “Our legal system has long been seen as the global benchmark and our members fight 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 that “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 efficiently”.

It called on the next government to implement specific measures around three key issues: funding and access to justice, post-Brexit and technology.

The Society wants an independent economic review of the long-term viability of criminal legal aid; a rise in criminal legal aid fees “in real terms”; and a guarantee that there would be no future real terms cuts in criminal legal aid.

Civil legal aid allowing individuals to access early advice from housing and family solicitors should also be reinstated.

The Society believes 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 to remove the capital test for individuals on income-related benefits – to enable greater access to legal aid.

The Society stressed its longheld concerns for the profession after the UK has left the European Union, and called 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 the EU 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 incumbent government to lead on new technology saying it can “play a key role” in widening access to justice – as well as being a business enabler.

According to its economic analysis of the lawtech sector, the Society said faster adoption of new law tech 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 the Society conceded that technology is not a silver bullet, it called for the implementation of measures such as tax incentives for law firms adopting lawtech and improvements to the accessibility of legal data for law tech firms.

The LawTech Delivery Panel’s definition of law tech –"technologies which aim to support, supplement or replace traditional methods for delivering legal services, or which improve the operation of the justice system" – should also be adopted to ensure law tech is recognised as a distinct sector for the purposes of investment, development and procurement.