The Labour Party has underpinned itself on values such as social justice, fairness and egalitarianism. The recent General Election and the policies presented in the manifesto reaffirmed the commitment to these ideals. Arguably, the slogan, ‘For the Many, not the Few’, encapsulates this.
Although Labour didn’t win the last election, the Tories were denied the majority they so deeply craved. Following the General Election, the Labour party must to continue to fight for a fairer Britain on the platform that we built and solidified during the 2017 campaign. One area where this fight is deeply needed is in relation to legal aid.
The Tories’ coalition government with the Liberal Democrats introduced a piece of legislation known as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012. This legislation has singlehandedly decimated legal aid and has left thousands of people without adequate representation.
There was no indication within the Queens Speech that the Government is set to reverse these changes and therefore it is up to the Labour Party to stand firm and commit itself to legal aid reform. Following the introduction of LASPO, the number of individuals self-representing in the legal system has soared.
After LASPO came into force, Amnesty International published a report to look at the impact and ramifications of the legislation. It reported that the level of people self-representing had risen, and that, as a result, access to justice had been affected. Upon critical analysis of the types of people representing, it found that it was children, immigrants and other individuals who were immensely vulnerable within the justice system that were self-representing.
Therefore, the inference can be made that the Tories, through LASPO, have eroded an individuals right to a free and fair trial by placing a barrier in the shape of LASPO to access to legal representation. It is a sacred tenant of a healthy democracy that there is a free and fair justice system in which people can expect to receive a fair trial.
Indeed this is enshrined through Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, but again the Tories have shown their disdain for this through their attempts to continually circumvent Human Rights legislation and commitments.
The Government went as far as to have to be reined in by the Supreme Court during their aggressive agenda of legal reforms; this was showcased in 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled that the Government could not impose its blatantly discriminatory ‘Citizenship Test’ for legal aid.
The only positive factor in the mess that is the legal aid system is the way in which the Labour Party outlined its commitment to it in their 2017 Manifesto, stating that the party would reinstate the Early Advice Entitlements in the Family Courts. This would allow a claimant to claim legal aid earlier and therefore reduce some of the pressures litigation can place upon an individual.
In addition, the signal from the wider Labour Leadership on the issue of legal aid is that the Labour Party is committed to continuing to fight for its wider reinstatement within the justice system. This can be seen in the recent Bach Commission which was called for by Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader.
The commissioner’s recent report highlights how there needs to be an investment in the legal aid system in the UK. Labour must continue to stand firm in its commitment to fairness and egalitarianism, especially in relation to the fight for legal aid and the struggle against the Government’s reforms.
I believe only a Labour Government will deliver on reforming the legal aid system in a fair and equal manner. The Tories over the last 7 years have presided over the desecration of our legal system. Their political choice of austerity has led to cuts being introduced across all levels of society at an unprecedented level.
Amidst the Tories’ attacks on legal aid and the justice system it is reassuring to see the Labour Party has outlined some commitment for legal aid within the UK. The Labour Party must continue on the path it has begun to travel down, and continue to fight for the reinstatement of legal aid and the reform of legal aid in favour of a more equal and fair system.