Labour’s legal aid spokesman has warned that the party cannot reverse the cuts of the current government if it comes to power next year.
Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said Labour would start an immediate review of what coalition changes can be repealed if it wins next year’s general election.
The Gazette understands this will focus on elements such as the residence test for legal aid, judicial review reform and part two of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 – in particular rules on conditional fee agreements.
But in a packed meeting organised by Justice Alliance UK in Manchester, held as a fringe event to the Labour party conference, Slaughter said he could not commit to re-establishing legal aid.
‘We’re not going to get in a Tardis and go back to before,’ he said. ‘We are in a world where resources are tight and it would not be right to pretend otherwise.'
However, he said: 'There are some aspects of what has been done which are politically motivated for employers or the insurance industry or ideologically driven against immigrants or prisoners. Those things are not costing money so it makes it much easier to turn them the other way.’
Slaughter conceded that the Labour party would have been forced to make cuts to family law funding and promote mediation as a cheaper option. He added that a Labour government would seek to promote and improve mediation services on offer.
Slaughter said the party’s overall aim would be to restore confidence in the justice system and ‘mend what has gone wrong’.
‘We are going to be honest about the tightness of resources – we can’t tackle everything immediately and other elements [of public spending] will have a higher place in the queue.
‘I hope we will regain the confidence of people in the profession to realise we’re on your side… we had a justice system to be proud of and we can again.’
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan is set to give one of the final speeches to conference this morning, although it is largely set to focus on constitutional issues.
The Conservatives hold their conference in Birmingham from next Sunday, with the Liberal Democrats in Glasgow the week after.