The commission set up to put together Labour’s justice policy is still almost a year away from publishing its recommendations.
At a fringe event at the party conference in Liverpool, commission chair Lord Bach (Willy Bach) yesterday said that a review of access to justice will bring forward proposals next summer.
The review, which covers areas including family, criminal and social welfare law and is expected to feed into leader Jeremy Corbyn’s policy plans, was expected to be complete by the start of this conference.
Bach, who was a junior justice minister in Gordon Brown’s government, said the scale of the project had forced the party to put back publication by a year.
‘It soon became clear, if we are to do the job necessary and deal with the issue with the seriousness it deserves, and come up with conclusions that are original and last the test of time, we need more time,’ Bach told the Society of Labour Lawyers event.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon (pictured) sitting on the same panel as Bach, did commit Labour to the immediate abolition of employment tribunal fees that were introduced in 2013.
Burgon, a former employment solicitor at trade union firm Thompsons, said his own experience had proven to him that the fees, subject to a government review delayed by more than nine months, require immediate attention.
‘I will never forget the first time I lodged a claim after the introduction of fees – I completed the form and waited to submit it online,’ said Burgon. ‘What flashed up on the screen was ‘customer please enter your credit card details’. I felt sick to my stomach.’
Burgon said he supported the work of ACAS, the conciliation service that ministers say has resolved employment cases quicker and at reduced cost, but he questioned whether it is helping claimants secure justice.
‘I have seen evidence that ACAS is not as good as people are making out,’ he added. ‘The ACAS officers don’t provide legal advice on the quantum or value of a potential claim – they merely act as a go between to find a deal people are happy with. It leads to people potentially under-settling claims.’
Burgon said that Labour will make it a priority to stress the good work carried out by lawyers and try to address the public perception of fat cats and ambulance chasers. ‘I want to speak up for all the good work that lawyers do – there is lazy talk about lawyers but we have to speak up for the profession and say not all lawyers are raking it in.’