The last Labour government helped to erode the ‘broad consensus’ about the need for legal aid and access to justice, a former Labour justice minister admitted today.
At a conference on access to justice, Lord Bach (Willy Bach) said that while the destruction of the consensus primarily happened under the coalition, the last Labour administration had contributed to the process.
'A broad consensus used to exist around access to justice and legal aid, which has now gone. I don't say the last Labour government hasn't had something to with that. But the real destruction has been under the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in the coalition.'
Bach (pictured), who is leading Labour’s review of the government’s legal aid reforms, said that he hoped this review would ultimately look to reinstate the consensus. ‘It will be difficult to restore but we must try,’ he said.
Outlining the scope of the review, Bach said it would develop a critical and cogent policy for the Labour party, develop an analysis of what has gone so wrong over the last few years, bring the issue to the public’s attention, and achieve some change from the government in power.
He said: ‘We need not to be afraid of looking at things in a new light. We need to look hard at the use of technology and its proper role in access to justice […] we need to discuss and look at the relationship with the pro bono movement […] and we need to discus: who should legal aid help? Should it just be for the poorest in society or should we aim higher than that?’
Bach warned that although the current lord chancellor Michael Gove has reversed many of his predecessor Chris Grayling’s policies, there is not much evidence that there has been a change of heart on legal aid.
He said: ‘We might have seen a change of heart if there had been an early review of part one of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act but there hasn’t been.’
But he said that Jeremy Corbyn is the first leader of a major party in years to really understand legal aid and its relationship to access to justice.
He said: ‘I am no Corbynista but within day of his election he asked me to lead a review on access to justice to develop a policy that Labour could be proud of. It is about time a major political party looked hard on what a principled policy on access to justice should look like in a country that prides itself on the rule of law.’