The Liberal Democrats have said they would be prepared to reverse recent fee rises if the increased costs are pricing people out of court.
In its pre-election manifesto published today, the party pledged to carry out an ‘immediate review’ of civil legal aid, judicial review and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary.
Under the coalition government, the Lib Dems backed the reduced eligibility of civil legal aid, restrictions on bringing JRs and a new 5% upfront levy for bringing claims valued at more than £10,000.
The manifesto made no outright promise to reverse any of those policies, but said the review will ensure legal aid is available to all those who need it, that those of ‘modest means’ can bring applications for JR and that court and tribunal fees do not put justice beyond the reach of those in need.
On the final of those pledges, the manifesto said this would mean ‘reversing any recent rises in upfront court fees that make justice unaffordable for many, and instead spreading the fee burden more fairly’.
On criminal legal aid, the Lib Dems said there will be no further cuts without an impact assessment of the ‘viability of a competitive and diverse market of legal aid providers’.
The party would retain recoverable success fees and insurance premiums for asbestosis claims and where an individual is suing the police, and also for both claimant and defendant in publication and data protection claims.
The manifesto pledges to promote the use of alternative buildings for magistrates’ courts and encourage the widespread use of mediation for separating couples.
The party would also ‘develop a strategy’ to give advice and legal support to help people with problems such as personal debt and social welfare issues.
The Lib Dems said they would protect the Human Rights Act, block any further attempts to limit the right to trial by jury and pass a digital bill of rights.