The Welsh government’s new law officer has launched a scathing attack on court closures and legal aid cuts, which he says are ‘threatening people’s fundamental rights’ to access justice.
In his first major speech since being appointed counsel general for Wales Mick Antoniw (pictured), a former partner at trade union firm Thompsons, described the legal system in Wales as ‘at a crossroads’.
He added: ‘In post-war Britain access to justice and the administration of justice has never been so limited and restricted. Now, to whole sections of the Welsh and UK population, the law is an imposition and not a vehicle for empowerment and emancipation.
‘As the then President of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, highlighted in a speech in 2014, “the rule of law is rightly regarded as being the foundation of any democratic society. But the rule of law is meaningless if there is no access to justice. It is pointless to be granted rights if you have no way of enforcing them”.’
Antoniw said civil legal aid scope cuts represented ‘an end to the ideological consensus between political parties across the UK reached in 1945 that access to justice is a fundamental social and human right’.
He added: ‘Another principle of access to the law is that courts and tribunals should be based in local communities with judges, magistrates and tribunal chairs who know and understand the community. The recently announced closure of another ten court buildings in Wales is another nail in the coffin of this principle. The closures are more to do with cost-cutting than efficiency in the administration of justice.’