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Carried with amendment: Access to Justice

March 13, 2011 11:02 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association
Mover: Alistair Webster QC
Summation: To be announced

Conference notes that:

I. The party and the coalition government are committed to the promotion of civil liberties, social justice and the elimination of unnecessary and intrusive state powers brought in by previous governments.

II. Access to the courts and redress to protect and enforce human and civil rights is an essential component of those rights, as recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights.

III. Those least advantaged in society are often those who most need assistance in getting access to the courts and legal advice.

IV. A properly funded system whereby access to justice and the courts is not denied to those otherwise unable to bear the costs is a mark of a modern, civilised and democratic society.

V. Steps taken by the Labour Government in relation to cutting legal aid provision were ill-considered and inadequately trialled, as was repeatedly found by the relevant Select Committees.

While recognising the many competing claims upon public funds and the poor economic circumstances bequeathed by the Labour government, conference calls upon the government to ensure that before any further cuts are made to the Legal Aid budget or new schemes adopted:

A. Full consideration, assessments and trials are carried out as to any proposed changes or reductions before they are introduced; including: i) A full examination of how the administration of justice can become more cost effective without reducing the quality of that justice. ii) An examination of alternative methods of funding access to justice.

B. Those discussions, trials and assessments should study the impact upon:

i) The access to courts for those on low incomes.

ii) The availability and sustainability of a suitable and adequate number of appropriately qualified and experienced lawyers prepared to undertake publicly funded work.

iii) The effect of such changes upon the sustainability of legal service providers such as Citizens Advice Bureaux and the burden placed on charities with limited funds providing support facilities to those who, being unable to afford legal representation, have to represent themselves in civil and matrimonial matters.

C. A more strategic approach is adopted by public authorities towards provision, funding and delivery of legal and advice services in communities on issues such as welfare benefits, debt, housing and employment.

Conference further calls upon the government to:

1. Ensure that the legal aid budget is not made to bear costs which should fall elsewhere, by:

a) Ensuring that the costs of acquitted persons do not fall upon the legal aid funds.

b) Repealing section 41 (4) and (5) Proceeds of Crime Act, 2002 (which prevents restrained funds being used by the person restrained in his own defence).

c) Enabling the courts to use cost orders against public or private bodies which bring proceedings unsuccessfully, or unnecessarily (such as acting in breach of pre-action protocols).

2. Make the necessary savings from the budget of the Ministry of Justice by significantly reducing the prison population and investing more in community orders and penalties and constructive alternatives to criminalisation.

Amendment One

18 conference representatives
Mover: Adam Cain

At end (after line 43), add:

Furthermore Conference calls for the government to:

I) Before undertaking any further changes to Legal Aid, commission an independent study on the overall cost to public funds due to the impact on other budgets and other government departments as a consequence of any loss of access to adequate legal advice by those with housing, immigration, employment and education cases.

II) Ensure that proper consideration be given for the scope for savings to be made by improvements in Legal Services Commission decision-making and by reducing the costs of appeals by raising the quality of first decisions by public authorities.

III) Reject any changes to Legal Aid which lead to significant reductions in access to justice, a lack of sustainability of public funded legal services or false economies as a result of knock-on costs to public funds of cuts to legal aid.

Applicability: England and Wales.