Bach Commission chair Sir Henry Brooke received a standing ovation at the conference following a ferocious denunciation of legal aid reforms. The retired lord justice of appeal hit out at the Treasury, policy ‘technicians’ and the ‘high priests of PR’ in calling for a cross-party solution to the unfolding disaster exposed by the commission’s recent report on civil scope cuts.
Instead of the expected annual savings of £450m, he pointed out, the government is now saving £500m more.
He added: ‘We cannot retrieve that colossal underspend overnight, but we identified 25 priority areas for improvement when the money is there. And an important part of our recommendations, which some commentators did not understand, was that now that the office of a tough, old-style lord chancellor is as dead as the dodo, parliament must give teeth to a new Justice Commission, to see that justice, in all its emanations, can never again become a Treasury lickspittle.’
The Bach report appears to have gained little traction with ministers, with lord chancellor David Lidington offering little to suggest that wholesale LASPO reforms are under consideration during an appearance before the Commons justice committee last month.
Brooke warned: ‘Unless more and more people, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, are enabled to access our report, and to study the evidence that underpins it, it may be all too easy for government spin-doctors to continue the charade that this is all about making fat cat lawyers even fatter, and that we are already spending enough.
‘Any lasting solution has to be a cross-party political solution. MPs of all parties are now seeing their constituency surgeries flooded with requests for legal help because there is perceived to be nowhere else to go. They all know there is little they can do to help. Many members of the bar are being generous with their time and money, with walking, running, cycling, swimming and doing all sorts of other things to raise money for justice, but pro bono help will never be enough.’