The Fabian Society is providing the secretariat to Lord Willy Bach’s Commission on Access to Justice, which will explore establishing access to justice as a fundamental public entitlement.
The commission, which met for the first time on Tuesday 19th January, will hear from a range of legal experts and provide evidence-based proposals for how to restore access to legal information, advice and representation. Its starting point will be that access to justice is an essential public service, equal to healthcare or education.
The commission is supported by Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer and Shadow Attorney General Karl Turner. Its findings will be considered by Labour’s policy review.
Members of the commission, who have all been chosen for their expertise in this area, include Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, BL; Hillsborough lawyer Raju Bhatt; Director of the Law Centres Federation Julie Bishop; former president of the Law Society Lucy Scott-Moncrief CBE; and former Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Henry Brooke CMG.
The Commission’s focus
The Commission will seek to determine how the State can guarantee, in the context of an ever greater strain on public finances, that those who need access to advice or representation in order to enforce their rights have access to it. This will be considered alongside the question of how the provision of advice and the justice system can become more efficient and be made to work for the 21st century.
The current state of access to justice
The legal aid budget has been significantly cut in recent years and court and tribunal fees have risen. The impact on access to justice has been significant. While savings to the legal aid budget have been made, the wider impacts and consequences are not being measured and the National Audit Office, Public Accounts Committee and Justice Select Committee have all criticised the government for its lack of understanding of the knock-on costs and value for money of its reforms.
The Commission will firstly review the impacts of the reforms so far, looking at how efficient they have been, the scale of unmet needs and their impact on access to justice as well as wider impacts, such as on health outcomes or poverty. The Commission will outline the difference that would be made by a strategy to re-define access to justice as a key public entitlement.
Transforming our justice system
There is widespread acceptance that there must be decent standards of health care or education provided by the State. The same should be true of access to justice. The Commission will look at what these guarantees should look like and establish priorities for publicly funded legal support and interventions, as well as a framework for spending decisions. The Commission will consider what alternative savings or sources of funding could be found to enable us to start to rebuild a decent provision.
Our society has evolved and so has the way in which we “consume” services. So while savings will need to be found, the work of the Commission will focus on how we re-design our justice system for the 21st century, drawing on international and historic comparisons and looking in particular at legal aid and the provision of advice.
It will identify shortcomings in the present system and seek to identify measures, which could prevent the escalation of legal problems and their consequential social and economic costs. It will look at what impact efficiency measures and better use of technology can have and where to focus such reforms. It will consider how to better integrate advice with other aspects of our lives and the role of different sectors. It will consider how best to empower innovative thinking locally and support the sharing of best practice, including a focus on prevention. It will seek to design the blueprint for a new scheme that better meets the needs of those on low incomes, and most especially the needs of vulnerable groups, within a more efficient and effective administrative framework.
Please click here for a full list of the commissioners and biographies.
Call for evidence
We are welcoming submissions of written evidence for consideration by the Commission. Please click here for the call for written evidence.
Please click here for audio recordings of witness hearings. Further recordings will continue to be added. We will shortly be publishing written summaries of the sessions.