The Bach Commission's report on access to justice was formally launched at the Labour Party conference in Brighton today with a call for cross-party consensus on the issue. Presenting the report, Lord Bach (barrister Willy Bach) said he had forgiven the government for its two-line statement in response.
Hours after the commission's Right to Justice report was published on Friday, justice minister Dominic Raab quoted the £1.6bn spent on legal aid last year and attacked 'unfunded proposals'. He said the government 'will continue to focus legal aid on those who most need help, recognising the cost of this support is met by the taxpayer'.
The commission proposes a Right to Justice Act, which would codify and supplement existing rights and establish a new right for individuals to receive reasonable legal assistance, at a cost they can afford. A newly established independent body, the Justice Commission, would promote, develop and enforce this right.
The report has not been adopted as official Labour party policy. But shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon told the Fabian Society event that the 'pioneering' report 'will form a key part of the next manifesto'.
Calling part one of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 'probably the worst piece of legislation passed in the five years of the coalition government', Bach said cross-party consensus on access to justice and legal aid had broken down and needs to be re-established.
Shami Chakrabarti, shadow attorney general, was 'less optimistic' about whether the post-war consensus could be re-established and is 'not holding her breath for this Conservative government'. However, she noted that some members of the Conservative party, such as her 'friend and predecessor' Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general, 'are unhappy about what is coming out of the current and recent lord chancellors' mouths'.
Meanwhile Sir Henry Brooke, a retired Court of Appeal judge and vice-chair of the commission, recalled 'one of the most poignant moments' of the commission's work: the case of a resident of Grenfell Tower who had sought legal help but was told that a law centre could not help them unless someone was threatened with eviction or the disrepair was so bad it was endangering health.