Access to Justice: Our campaigns, successes and media coverage in 2018
Our Access to Justice campaigns this year have been very successful.
- Early advice
- Means test
- Legal Aid deserts
- Criminal duty solicitor age profiles
- UN rapporteur on poverty
- Justice Week
- LASPO Post Implementation Review
- Media features
- Legal action
- Select Committee appearances
- HMCTS reform programme - lobbying and achievements
- Solicitor Judges’ Division
We have continued our campaign to bring back early legal advice throughout 2018.
- The Labour Party has taken up our two early advice recommendations as official party policy.
- We held a drop in session on early advice in parliament. Over 20 MPs attended, including Iain Duncan Smith and the Shadow Lord Chancellor Richard Burgon.
- There has been support for our campaigns on Conservative Home from Alex Chalk MP (member of the Justice Select Committee).
- 662 members have written to their MP on early advice, and almost 500 have written directly to the Lord Chancellor.
- Over 200 members took part in a social media Thunderclap on the campaign.
We commissioned and published three research reports from the University of Loughborough and the University of Hull. We found that the legal aid means test is preventing families in poverty from accessing justice. The research received wide press coverage, including the Independent, The Guardian and wide traction on social media.
- We have continued to highlight increasing legal aid deserts. Head of justice Richard Miller was on the Today programme on the 13 December talking about the issue.
- It was also covered on BBC News online with a report, which drew heavily on Law Society information, showing cuts to legal aid have created 'deserts' of provision across England and Wales.
- We developed a map highlighting the looming crisis in the number of criminal duty solicitors available across the country. View the criminal duty solicitors map.
- The government has announced that it will review criminal legal aid fees in the new year.
- The Labour Party adopted our policy recommendation for a review of the criminal legal aid system as party policy.
- The map was covered on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show - the story covered all the campaign’s key messages, and displayed the heatmap.
- Richard Miller was interviewed on BBC news and there was also coverage on BBC Wales, England and Scotland and in The Guardian. View The Guardian article.
The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights reported back on his visit to the UK on 16 November. As a result of our submission, he included a section on the cuts to legal aid. He criticised the restrictions on scope and the tightening of the means test, and the impact this has had on exacerbating poverty in the UK. Read the report
This was a new initiative run jointly with the Bar and CILEx. The aim of the week was to place justice and the rule of law at the centre stage of public and political debate.
Justice Week included:
- a week of events including parliamentary content and digital activities took place both in London and regionally.
- a photography exhibition giving clients a voice to tell their stories about accessing justice. One of the photos from the exhibition was featured on the front cover of the Gazette.
The government is due to report on the LASPO review early in the new year. Read our submission
Our submission includes:
- 25 recommendations outlined in our LASPO four years on report
- evidence from our members gathered through focus groups around the country
- research reports on the means test and a table of evidence published since the implementation of LASPO
Our work throughout the year has helped highlight, with mainstream media, the crisis in the justice system and encouraged detailed features on the issues.
Coverage has included:
- Financial times feature article
- BBC online coverage of the crisis and interview of Richard Miller on the Today programme
- BBC’s The World Tonight week-long series investigating failures in the criminal justice system and the impact of cuts to the justice system
Our successful Judicial Review of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ’s) attempt to cut the fees for litigators in Crown Court cases received considerable coverage in both national and local media, including The Times, The Telegraph, The Financial Times, and The Guardian.
Richard Miller, head of the justice team, made the following appearances before Parliamentary Select Committees:
- The Public Accounts Committee hearing in June. Read the report
The Committee’s report endorsed the concerns Richard raised in his evidence in relation to stakeholder engagement, video hearings and the role of legal advice within the reform programme.
- The Joint Committee on Human Rights looking at the impact of LASPO on the enforcement of human rights.
The report reflected the Law Society’s concerns that large parts of England and Wales are becoming 'legal aid deserts', as solicitors are forced to withdraw from providing legal aid services because they can no longer afford to do the work.
- The Justice Select Committee (JSC) enquiry on criminal legal aid. The JSC report following that enquiry echoed many of our concerns and received wide media coverage:
- The Women and Equalities Committee session on enforcing rights against discrimination. Richard gave evidence on the difficulties people face enforcing their rights when they have been discriminated against, and the impact of legal aid cuts on this issue.
- 14 hour rule - Our persistent lobbying led to the LAA consulting on changes to the rules, which have greatly improved the position for our members.
- Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme - Our response and independent analysis resulted in the MoJ putting an additional £7 million into the scheme on top of what was proposed in the consultation.
- QC Appointment Scheme - We responded to proposed changes to the Queen’s Counsel Appointments scheme. Our response supported proposals that the QC appointments process should increase the diversity of those appointed as a QC.
- Legal Aid for inquests - We responded to the MoJ’s call for evidence regarding their review of legal aid for inquests. Our work in this area has helped gain mainstream media interest in this issue with a case featuring on channel 4 news.
- Domestic violence gateway – We worked with the Ministry of Justice, Rights of Women, Resolution and LAPG on changes to the ‘domestic violence gateway’ regulations. We achieved significant improvements, the new regulations were published in January 2018 and led to a 21% increase in ‘gateway’ applications.
- Court closures - we responded to consultations regarding proposals to close 8 courts, and a further consultation on the future approach to court closures. Our strong arguments meant that Cambridge Magistrate’s Court will now remain open. Northallerton Magistrate’s Court will remain open until technology is implemented. We called for a pause in future closures until the reform programme has demonstrably worked.
- Flexible Operating Hours Pilot - following our extensive lobbying on the issue, in November 2018 HMCTS announced that the pilot in criminal courts would not go ahead, and only a scaled back pilot would take place in civil and family courts.
- Courts and Tribunals Bill - We have briefed MPs on the proposals in the Bill with a view to protecting the rights of our members.
- Research and design - we have contributed to many meetings set up by HMCTS to determine the design of different strands of the proposed reforms, to ensure that the rights of our members and the needs of the public are kept fully in mind.
Launch of the Judicial Pathway
The Judicial Pathway helps members gain a practical understanding of what is required to become a judge. The Pathway was written by solicitor judge and former Judicial Appointments Commissioner Alexandra Marks CBE.