Justice system must be a key priority for Sunak and new government

As the first Asian president of the Law Society, I am delighted to welcome Rishi Sunak as the first British-Asian prime minister. As Sunak enters Downing Street, his in-tray will be bursting with urgent issues and competing demands.
Rishi Sunak, a man of British Asian heritage with short black hair, walks along Downing Street. He wears a navy suit, white shirt and light blue tie.
Photograph: I T S

1. Prioritise fixing the justice system

While his early focus will undoubtedly be on the economic crisis and the war in Ukraine, our justice system must also be a key priority for the new administration.

Our justice system is beset by backlogs and plagued with delays, causing anger and anguish to any who use our courts.

Our crumbling court estate is a visual representation of the damage caused to our justice system by years of chronic underfunding.

Legal aid – which ensures that the public can access legal advice and representation and enforce their rights – faces a make-or-break moment.

The government must urgently commit to implementing the full 15% criminal legal aid rate increase which was the minimum recommended by Lord Bellamy.

It must also launch the civil legal aid review urgently to ensure timely access to justice is available and affordable to all.

2. Work together to grow the economy

The legal services sector can assist in Sunak’s ambition to repair and grow the economy.

The sector has been a driver of economic growth for decades, providing the hidden wiring which underpins and facilitates contracts and business transactions across our economy.

It also contributes almost £60bn gross value added to the UK economy each year.

But solicitors are feeling the squeeze of the increasing cost of doing business.

The new prime minister must take action to ensure that our professional services sector can not only survive but thrive, and drive growth in our economy.

Only through investment across the justice system will we be able to repair the damage.

With the prospect of public sector cuts on the horizon, it is essential that Sunak’s government at a minimum maintains justice spending and looks to address the funding gap which is holding our system back.

3. Create opportunities for cross-border trade

In order to drive growth, the government must also prioritise legal services in free-trade agreements.

Our legal services market is the largest in Europe, and second globally only to the United States. In 2020, net exports of UK legal services stood at almost £5.6 billion.

The demand for UK legal services across the world is driven by our strengths – notably the prestige of English common law which is stable, predictable and flexible.

As we look to secure new trading arrangements across the globe, the government should play to its strengths and prioritise legal services.

By opening up new international markets, we can create opportunities for the solicitor profession across the globe and drive economic growth.

4. Uphold the rule of law

Upholding the rule of law must also be a key focus for the government.

Demonstrating a renewed respect and commitment to the law and the institutions that protect our citizens and underpin our freedoms, as well as benefit our reputation at home and abroad, promoting the UK as a reputable and trusted leader of legal and professional services.

A review of the proposed Bill of Rights Bill is also necessary.

The bill represents a lurch backwards for British justice and would disempower the British public through a weakening of individual rights and increasing divergence from our international human rights obligations.

An early commitment from the Sunak administration to scrap the bill once and for all – and instead revisit the recommendations made by the Independent Human Rights Act Review – would be the first step to securing this goal.

I look forward to working with Rishi Sunak’s government to drive forward the solicitor profession’s interests and fight for improved access to justice for all.

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