Access to justice is in crisis as legal aid cuts have created a two-tier system, a Labour-party commissioned report stated.
The interim report from the Bach Commission, The crisis in the justice system in England and Wales, called for minimum standards enshrined in law to ensure access to justice and an independent inspectorate to enforce them.
It identified six key problems in the system: the loss of legal aid; the failure of the exceptional case funding scheme; inadequate and disjointed public legal education and legal advice; increased court and tribunal fees; excessive bureaucracy in the Legal Aid Agency (LAA); and out-of-date technology.
The solution, it said, cannot simply be to reverse the cuts introduced through the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), and to increase the legal aid budget.
Rather, the Commission plans to develop proposals to establish a minimum standard for access to justice, reform or replace the LAA, transform pubic legal education, increase the availability of legal advice, and increase technological innovation by considering an online portal; an innovation fund and options for alternative dispute resolution.
Labour peer Lord Bach, who chairs the commission, said the justice system is ‘creaking at the seams’ and the LASPO cuts have produced a ‘crisis’ in the justice system in which the poorest in society can no longer receive the legal support they require.
‘This unacceptable state of affairs needs challenging and changing. This report is the starting point in our on-going work to redesign the justice system so that it works for all,’ he said.
The commission aims to publish its final report next year.