The battle for British Justice
The battle to protect British justice continues and on Friday we submitted our consultation responses to the Ministry of Justice on reforms to both legal aid and Judicial Review. Both are central to our justice system, ensuring that all of us – and not just the Government and the super-rich - have recourse to the protection of the law.
Original proposals for legal aid threatened a devastating blow to access to justice. Though there have been some important improvements, serious concerns remain. In prison law, plans to remove effective means of redress and external scrutiny pave the way for worsened conditions and the risk of abuse, jeopardising rehabilitation to the detriment of all in society. Concessions made on the so-called “residency test” for civil legal aid for some particularly at-risk groups like young children are vital but, on closer inspection, half-baked. The fine print would leave such groups with worryingly incomplete protection. If the test were in force today, those alleging sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre would have no access to public funds - forced to try to make their voices heard with the odds stacked against them.
While the reintroduction of a degree of client choice in criminal legal aid is welcome we’re still stuck with a package of cuts that will put unsustainable pressure on hard-pressed professionals, seriously jeopardising fair trial rights.
Unfortunately proposals for Judicial Review reform will only twist the knife. Judicial Review is the ultimate protection for ordinary people against illegal and arbitrary use of state power. It allows us to hold the Government to certain standards of rationality and lawfulness and demand respect for our rights. But the Ministry of Justice seems determined to crush challenges before they’ve begun and undermine this bulwark against state abuse. This approach threatens to tear through the delicate system of checks and balances that is so crucial to the health of our democracy.
The responses are in – will the Government now listen to the growing coalition of voices against these misguided reforms?