New government should use mandate to fix a justice system in crisis

Repairing Britain’s justice system and championing the rule of law must be priorities for the new government alongside negotiating an ambitious future deal with the European Union, the Law Society of England and Wales said.

“Our legal system needs an immediate and sustained boost in funding if Britain is to retain its world-wide reputation for justice and fairness,” Law Society of England and Wales vice president David Greene said.

“As the new government takes office, the justice system of England and Wales is on its knees.

“Years of under-funding have led to crumbling courts, a crisis in criminal justice and growing numbers of vulnerable people refused legal aid and unable to enforce their rights.

“Access to justice for all is a cornerstone of the rule of law and our values – the stakes have rarely been higher.”

The Law Society calls on the new government to:

  • bring back legal aid for early advice from solicitors in housing and family matters so problems can be resolved more quickly and don’t escalate unnecessarily
  • increase the legal aid means tests thresholds so that people can access the justice system to enforce their rights
  • raise criminal legal aid fees and guarantee no future real terms cuts
  • undertake a review of police “released under investigation” powers as soon as possible in the interests of justice and public safety
  • secure a future relationship with the EU that allows lawyers to continue to practise and base themselves in the EU

David Greene said: “The law of England and Wales facilitates a vast number of global transactions. As a result, UK legal services contributed more than £27.9 billion to the economy in 2018, including £4 billion to net exports.

“To preserve the legal sector’s strong economic contribution to UK plc after Brexit, the government will need to ensure mutual market access for lawyers across the EU.”

Notes to editors

The Law Society manifesto zooms in on some key areas of concern:

Criminal justice

There is a growing shortage of duty solicitors; the court closure programme has had a profound detrimental effect on access to justice; there is a shortage of independent experts when cases go to trial and problems with disclosure of evidence to defence teams.

In addition, tens of thousands of suspects are being released without bail conditions for unlimited periods under police “released under investigation” (RUI) powers, leaving suspects, victims and witnesses waiting for months or even years for justice and putting the public at risk.

The effects of the crisis facing the criminal justice system are felt most acutely by some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The same groups are most affected by the barriers to accessing legal aid. A well-functioning criminal justice system is crucial to ensure victims of crime get justice, and those accused of a crime are given a fair trial. Data published by the Law Society show that in five to 10 years we will not have enough criminal duty solicitors in many parts of the country, leaving people accused of crimes unable to enforce their rights.

Access to justice

Access to justice is a fundamental principle that underpins British values and the rule of law. Vulnerable people must be able to use the legal system when they face serious problems in their lives. In England and Wales, these people face significant barriers. Stringent means testing for legal aid has left many – including some living below the poverty line – ineligible for legal aid and unable to resolve their legal problems through the courts. Funding for early advice is a money-saver for society – if people deal with problems before they escalate we save resources down the line.

Brexit

Currently, UK lawyers and law firms can have a temporary or permanent presence in other EU and European Free Trade Area (EFTA) member states. Without a comprehensive deal, after Brexit, UK lawyers and law firms could find themselves operating under 31 different national regulatory systems across the EU and EFTA, hitting their ability to represent their clients effectively.

Non-EU trade is also crucially important for lawyers and their clients. As an enabling sector for international trade, the next government should seek to negotiate legal services chapters in new free trade agreements with non-EU countries and support efforts to liberalise markets in other jurisdictions.

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: Ben Davies | 020 8049 3750

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS