A Labour government would rebuild legal aid as ‘a pillar of the welfare state’ with a pledge to return funding for early legal help. Speaking in Liverpool at the party’s conference, the shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has promised that ‘empowering the communities most affected by Conservative cuts’ would be a priority for Labour.
The Leeds East MP demanded that funding for early legal support be reinstated as part of the government’s ongoing review of LASPO and argued that the cuts in this area have been a ‘false economy’.
Meanwhile, Lord Wilson, a Supreme Court judge, described the current government as having ‘felt the need to dismantle’ legal aid which, he said, was introduced as a ‘pillar of the welfare state’.
‘In pursuit of its economic policy the UK government has recently felt the need to dismantle much of our precious system of legal aid, introduced in 1949 along with the other two pillars of our welfare state, namely social security and the National Health Service,” Wilson explained.’
Lord Wilson speaking in Chicago
Richard Burgon stressed that the reintroduction of legal aid for initial advice could prevent issues from ‘spiralling into costly social problems’. He promised that under a Labour government that access to such support would be available to all, including those who had been ‘priced out of our justice system’, guaranteeing anyone the right to ‘fight back against unjust legal decisions’.
Statstics revealed that the number of law centres has dropped by almost a third since 2005, now with only 43 remaining. The number of not-for-profit legal advice centres has plummeted from 3,226 in 2005 to just 1,462 in 2015.
To guarantee access to legal aid, Burgon promised ‘a serious boost’ in resources for law centres. The MP described the profession as ‘a time bomb’ heading towards extinction. The promised funds would not only allow support to reach all those in need, but also contribute towards the development of a ‘key training ground’ for future lawyers. This in turn would enable law centres to deliver necessary and high-quality legal support.
Burgon is currently working alongside Law Centres Network to create a plan to build on the 2017 Bach Commission’s ‘Right to Justice’ report. The Labour peer and the commission’s chair Lord Willy Bach has stressed the need to reintroduce ‘some areas of civil law back into the scope of legal aid, but more importantly we need to refocus on early legal help in order to help prevent problems developing further down the track’.