On Monday 9 December 2019, Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) held a hustings on access to justice at the City Law School. Speakers (all lawyers) representing the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats each made a five-minute opening statement and answered questions from the audience.
- Rhona Friedman, Green Party
- Hannah Gomersall, Labour Party
- Tristan Honeybourne, Conservative Party
- James Sandbach, Liberal Democrats
The Chair was Adam Riley, projects coordinator at the UCL Centre for Access to Justice. He also coordinates YLAL’s parliamentary engagement team.
Adam reiterated the YLAL’s 3 Pledges for Justice (#3Pledges4Justice), which are as follows:
- Make legal aid accessible to ordinary people
- Bring back legal aid for social welfare law
- Pay legal aid lawyers fairly for the vital work they do
The key messages from each speaker have been summarised below.
Rhona Friedman acknowledged that the Green Party manifesto is ‘short on detail’ however, made 7 key proposals to the Green Party, including a revised Access to Justice Act, reversing LASPO and reintroducing early legal advice. Rhona asserts that policies should be ‘humane and innovative’.
Hannah Gomersall referenced the Bach Commission’s recommendations and states that the Labour Party’s manifesto pledges include a number of those recommendations. Hannah recounted personal anecdotes from when she acts in care proceedings where ‘the impact is real and it’s human’.
Tristan Honeybourne recognises the mistakes made from the Coalition government and emphasises the Conservative Party has tried to introduce an electronic court system. Tristan highlighted the Conservative Party’s proposal to establish a Royal Commission on the criminal justice process, which he labels ‘a big listening exercise’.
James Sandbach asserted his belief that access to justice is key to the rule of law in a liberal democracy. He was ‘highly critical’ of LASPO and argued the Liberal Democrats received significant concessions on access to justice during the coalition government. James concludes by emphasising his work in LawWorks.
Questions from the audience challenged each party’s pledges on their commitment to access to justice and the rule of law, how each party will implement the recommendations from the Grenfell inquiry, addressing what a reasonable legal aid budget should look like, the limitations of the internet as some members of the public do not have access to it and why did it take over five years to learn the negative impact of the legal aid cuts to the justice system.
Thank you to YLAL for hosting this event! As any first-year law student will know, access to justice is a real human rights issue in the UK. It affects the individual and the community. What is clear from this general election hustings event is that access to justice is a fundamental right which should not be treated as a political issue and requires cross-party support.
Follow YLAL on Twitter @YLALawyers to stay up to date on their important campaign for legal aid.
Thanks to Cristina de Souza for her coverage of this event, attending despite term being over!
Cristina is a final year LLB student at City and one of this year’s fantastic Lawbore journalist team.