Access to justice

Our vision for law and justice

As Boris Johnson enters Downing Street, we are calling on him to prioritise fixing our justice system and ensuring the legal services sector remains diverse and globally competitive.

We have set our vision for the new government to:

England and Wales is one of the most respected jurisdictions in the world for its transparency, certainty and flexibility.

English law is the most commonly used law by international business and for dispute resolution.

Solicitors form an essential part of the administration of justice by upholding the rule of law and make a significant contribution to communities, to the economy and to society.

In 2017 alone, we contributed almost £28 billion to the economy. Working across the political spectrum, the Law Society of England and Wales seeks to promote and maintain these strengths.

Maintaining the attractiveness of the UK as a global legal centre post-Brexit

After the UK exits the European Union, English and Welsh law will remain predictable, transparent and stable. Not only this, but it will retain many of the advantages that make it attractive to international businesses.

However, preserving the legal sector’s strong economic contribution will require continued close co-operation with the EU and depend on the continued ability of UK lawyers to practice, establish and provide temporary services on the continent.

Unless alternative arrangements are agreed, Brexit will mean UK lawyers and law firms fall back to operating under 31 different national regulatory systems across the EU and EFTA.

They would face restrictions and limits to their practise rights like any other third country lawyer or law firm, impacting their ability to effectively represent clients.

People and businesses will also continue to operate cross-border; therefore, an infrastructure which allows people to gain fast and effective access to justice needs to be maintained.

We call on the government to:

  • avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit at all costs
  • negotiate mutual access for EU and UK lawyers to practise law, and seek to secure rights of audience in EU courts and legal professional privilege at EU level for their clients
  • agree close and comprehensive post-Brexit arrangements with the EU on civil and family judicial co-operation

Ensuring access to justice for all

Access to justice is a fundamental principle that underpins British values and the rule of law.

As the government moves forward with its legal support action plan, including a review of the means test and a pilot in early legal advice, we must make sure our legal system is accessible to all.

We call on the government to:

  • reinstate legal aid for early advice from a lawyer in housing and family law
  • continue the review of the legal aid means test and make the necessary changes to eligibility criteria to improve access to justice
  • scrap plans to introduce a hike in probate fees, which would amount to a ‘stealth tax’
  • reconsider plans to reform personal injury legislation in the Civil Liability Act and scrap moves to increase the small claims limit

Fixing our broken criminal justice system

The UK criminal justice system is facing a crisis, following years of underinvestment and neglect.

Current problems include growing shortages of duty solicitors and independent experts, court closures, barriers to accessing legal aid, and crucial evidence not being disclosed in court until the last minute.

The future integrity of our justice system depends on the whole system working effectively – a poorly functioning criminal justice system will undoubtedly impact on the UK’s international reputation.

We call on the government to:

  • make the urgent changes to criminal legal aid fees needed to ensure the sustainability of the criminal justice system
  • conduct an independent economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system
  • ensure the courts modernisation programme adopts the use of technology in the court system in a way which widens and enhances access to justice for all

Leading the way on legal technology

Legal services are being, and will continue to be, transformed by technology. The global market in legal technology, or lawtech, is rapidly growing and is currently valued at £12.75 billion.

As a world leader in legal services, the UK can also become the global leader in lawtech.

A technologically empowered legal services sector will enable businesses across all sectors of the economy, improving productivity, driving wealth generation and allowing UK business to be more competitive internationally.

We call on the government to:

  • support the UK’s position as a global hub for lawtech development by making public funding available to encourage growth in the sector
  • recognise the economic potential of the lawtech sector and ensure that promoting the growth of lawtech is a priority in future digital and economic policy initiatives
  • continue to support the LawTech Delivery Panel’s work in identifying and addressing the barriers to the development and adoption of lawtech in the legal services market

Attracting the best talent to the legal profession

A lack of financial means should not be a barrier to talented and hardworking people entering the professions.

Professional and business services rely, primarily, on the quality of their people, so ensuring access for all is not just about fairness: it makes sense for business and the economy.

The new Solicitors Qualifying Examination will begin in 2021 and we want to ensure this does not create barriers to entering the profession.

We call on government to:

  • ensure that there is loan funding available for all individuals to ensure that they can afford the upfront costs of preparing for and taking the Solicitors Qualifying Examination