The new UK government should:

  • unleash legal services to drive economic growth
  • renew our commitment to the rule of law
  • protect and secure access to justice

Unleash legal services to drive economic growth

Legal services are an economic powerhouse that creates jobs and prosperity across the country.

The sector adds £60 billion to the UK economy every year, and employs over 1% of the total UK workforce. The sector is also uniquely productive, with an average contribution per employee of £100,500 – almost double the national average.

As well as an economic powerhouse in their own right, legal services are more importantly a key cog in our economy, providing the vital advice and support to businesses across every sector that enables them to grow and thrive.

Law firms can be found in every town and on every high street, providing good quality jobs in their communities and supporting local businesses and people.

Legal services are also one of the UK’s most valuable exports. The UK is the second largest legal market in the world, with total exports of over £6.6 billion per year.

England and Wales is the global jurisdiction of choice for international business deals and our lawyers and the certainty of English law are sought after across the globe.

The legal services sector is therefore uniquely well-placed to be the driving force for UK economic growth over the next decade.

By supporting domestic law firms to invest, upskill and adopt new technology, and seeking ambitious trade agreements that expand trade opportunities for our sector internationally, the next government can capitalise on this and unleash the full potential of our sector as a partner for growth.

The new government should:

  • take advantage of the legal sector’s export potential by ensuring legal services feature at the heart of trade policy and securing greater market access and practising rights for our lawyers
  • remove the investment penalty and extend full expensing to legal partnerships
  • provide support to law firms to promote retraining and development of key skills in the legal sector
  • boost support for legal businesses, especially small firms and sole practices, to take on apprentices
  • invest in encouraging the adoption of productivity boosting LawTech and AI across the legal services sector
  • push for greater business mobility provisions to allow lawyers on short-term business trips to provide legal services under their home country title without the need for a visa or permit
  • ensure that the provisions under the EU-UK Trade Cooperation Agreement are fully implemented, and that legal services are considered fully in the forthcoming review of the agreement

Renew our commitment to the rule of law

The UK is respected around the globe as a fierce defender of the rule of law – a reputation which has been developed over centuries of common law, legislation and international treaties that ensure that no person, or private or public body, is above the law.

We are also renowned for our strong system of parliamentary democracy which respects this foundational principle and has inspired emerging democracies around the world.

This commitment to the rule of law is not only a foundation of our democratic way of life; it is a key reason why the UK is a magnet for international business and investment.

Businesses tend to invest where the legal framework is secure and predictable and where they know that, should things go wrong, they can access courts or other forms of dispute resolution to protect their interests.

This reputation is not one that can be taken for granted, and requires continued commitment from politicians and governments of all persuasions.

Politicians have an important responsibility to scrutinise legislation to ensure it is compatible with the rule of law.

Respect for the rule of law demands that all laws provide adequate protection for individuals’ rights, and that ordinary people have the ability to enforce those rights through the legal system.

Governments must act with restraint both to preserve a robust balance of powers, and to act within the law, both domestic and international.

Government officials should recognise the role that both Parliament and the courts play in ensuring a fair playing field, and ministers should be conscious of the obligations placed on them by the law – including international law.

Politicians should also reflect on the rhetoric they use when discussing lawyers and judges.

The justice system, and democracy more widely, only works if it is independent of government. This requires lawyers to be able to do their jobs without fear of public pressure to act in a certain way or make certain legal decisions. Intemperate language aimed at legal professionals for political gain risks doing serious damage to the integrity of British justice.

A renewed commitment to the rule of law from politicians of all parties is needed to restore confidence in our law and our justice system both at home and abroad.

The new government should:

  • commit to maintaining the UK’s human rights law framework through the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights
  • ensure that the UK adheres to the international commitments that it has willingly taken upon itself
  • commit to ensuring adequate time, transparency and evidence for proper scrutiny of proposed legislation
  • ensure that all legislation offers legal certainty and sufficient safeguards for ordinary people to enforce their rights through the courts – for example, by avoiding unreasonable ouster clauses, retrospective clauses and “Henry VIII” powers
  • respect the independence of the judiciary and the justice system as a whole, and refrain from using hostile or derogatory language towards judges and lawyers which undermines public confidence
  • amend recent legislation that has harmed the rule of law, such as the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act and the Illegal Migration Act

Protect and secure access to justice

Throughout our history, the UK’s justice system has been a beacon to the world. Whatever your job, wealth or background, you would be treated equally by the courts, given fair representation and justice would be done.

However, as a result of years of chronic underfunding, our justice system has begun to crack at every level and its ability to provide even-handed justice is in serious jeopardy.

Backlogs in the Crown Court have hit record highs of 67,000 cases, leaving victims waiting years to get the justice they deserve. This number continues to grow as 100 courtrooms are closed every week due to unplanned repairs.

Practitioners are quitting the sector in droves as years of cuts in legal aid fees mean their vital work no longer pays the bills, and firms are coming to the realisation that the work is no longer viable.

The number of criminal duty solicitors, who provide representation in police stations and at courts at the earliest stages of a case, is down 26% since 2017.

And legal deserts have sprung up all over the country, leaving millions of people without access to vital free legal advice that they should be entitled to. 71% of the population of England and Wales for example do not have a local community care legal aid provider in their area.

In the words of the High Court, in its judgment on the Law Society’s successful 2023 judicial review of the government’s failure to implement its own review of criminal legal aid, “the system is slowly coming apart at the seams”.

These challenges are extensive but through reform and investment we can address them. Criminal legal aid rates need an immediate real terms increase of 15% while wider reform takes place.

For civil legal aid, an immediate £11.3m investment in early advice is necessary to sustain the system while the ongoing review takes place.

Investment is also needed in the courts system to ensure there are enough administrative staff to handle hearings, practitioners to prosecute and defend cases, and functional buildings for cases to be heard in, so we can bring down the courts backlog and restore timely and fair justice.

Our justice system should be a source of national pride. The next government should help it become one again.

The new government should:

  • adopt a whole-system, spend-to-save approach to address the issues across our criminal justice system for the long-term
  • immediately increase all criminal aid rates in real terms by 15%, as recommended by the Bellamy Review of criminal legal aid
  • inject £11.3m into civil legal aid for early advice to safeguard the system and commit to uprating fees following the review of civil legal aid
  • complete the civil legal aid sustainability review, and implement any changes it recommends
  • invest what is needed in our courts to ensure they have sufficient capacity to deal with the backlogs
  • provide funding to repair court buildings and put an end to the regular loss of courtrooms to preventable maintenance issues
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