Legal Aid Motion Sheffield Spring 2011

Sunday 13th March  2011

F18 Access to Justice
Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association
Mover: Alistair Webster QC

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.


Applicability: England and Wales.