British values of justice must not be undermined in the rush to recover from COVID
The rule of law must underpin every step of the UK’s recovery from the pandemic and guide us through the post-Brexit period, the Law Society of England and Wales warned today in its response to the Queen’s speech.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “As the government looks to rebuild after the pandemic it should ensure its plans don’t fly in face of our British values.
“Britons overwhelmingly* want their country to be a beacon of the rule of law with rules applying equally regardless of the individual or the institution.”
Balance of power between the courts, the legislature and the executive
On constitutional reform plans, I. Stephanie Boyce said: “Proposals on judicial review – which the government claims are intended to adjust the balance of power between executive, parliament and the courts – risk taking power away from citizens and putting more into the hands of government. The rule of law and access to justice would be significantly weakened.
“The independent panel convened by government to review the relationship between the courts and the state found no evidence of judicial overreach.
“Judicial review is an essential check on power. It keeps government and public bodies on the straight and narrow and allows individuals to uphold their rights when faced with the might of the state.
“The effect of government proposals would be a fundamental distortion of the protection judicial review is supposed to provide against state action, undermining the rule of law and restricting access to justice.”
Sovereign borders bill
I. Stephanie Boyce said: “Home Office plans for immigration and asylum pose a serious threat to the rule of law as well as undermining access to justice and making a mockery of British fair play.
“The Law Society shares the government’s aim of preventing people smuggling, but asylum-seekers who reach our shores by so-called irregular routes, such as by boat, should not be penalised. To do so would risk breaching international law by creating a two-tier asylum system.
“The rule of law and access to justice should underpin any reform of the immigration and asylum system. Any changes should be well-evidenced and coherent.”
Safety of citizens
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill looks to make citizens feel safer, but without investment in the justice system more widely it may be doomed to fall short.
I.Stephanie Boyce said: “The justice system – which is essential to maintaining law and order for the safety of us all – is on its knees.
“A boost in funding is vital if the British people are to have meaningful access to justice. Half the courts in England and Wales have been shut down since 2010 and those that remain are crippled by backlogs stretching to 2023. Swingeing cuts to legal aid have left the most vulnerable without representation when they face life-changing legal issues.
“At the very least, legal aid should be re-introduced for early advice, particularly for family and housing law cases, and further investment in Nightingale courts is needed to restore timely access to justice for victims, witnesses and those accused of crimes.
“Rights are meaningless if people cannot defend or realise them – whether because they can’t get legal aid, because of huge delays in the courts or because avenues for redress such as judicial review have been watered down.”
Notes for editors
*In a recent poll conducted by the Law Society, 94% of people said they think it is important the UK is seen as a country which upholds the law.
About the Law Society
The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.
Press office contact: Harriet Beaumont | 0208 049 3854