In his first speech setting out what a ‘one nation’ justice policy will look like, new Justice Secretary Michael Gove has pledged to reform a ‘creaking and outdated’ justice system that is ‘failing the most vulnerable members of society.’
In his maiden speech since taking the role as Justice Secretary in the new conservative government, Michael Gove promised to review existing courts, and close those that aren’t operating efficiently. Preferring to direct cuts at courts themselves, rather than the legal aid system, Gove has promised that austerity in the legal system won’t cost the most vulnerable in our society.
‘At a time when every government department has to find savings its makes more sense to deliver a more efficient court estate than, for example, make further big changes to the legal aid system’
When it comes to recovering the deficit in the Justice budget, Gove has shifted the focus from legal aid (the only victim in his predecessor’s sights) to those who have ‘done well’ out of the existing legal system;
‘Those who have benefitted financially from our legal culture need to invest in its roots. That is why I believe that more could – and should – be done by the most successful in the legal profession to help protect access to justice for all.’
As such, the Justice Secretary and his advisors are working on a model in which top lawyers are required to offer pro bono services to the less well-off in society. The Law Society, though, have urged Gove that asking the ‘very richest in the justice system to do a little bit more’ to fund the court system and plug the gaps in legal aid is not the solution.
‘The legal profession is committed to pro bono and nearly half of solicitors in private practice average more than 50 hours per year. But pro bono is never a substitute for a properly funded system of legal aid, which needs skilled and experienced solicitors to provide expert legal advice to those who need it.’
The previous government closed 142 courts, but Gove has pledged to go further, arguing that it is unacceptable that a third of courts are sitting 50% of the time – a huge strain on an ailing budget. The Law Society agrees that this should be the first priority, and asking lawyers to work pro-bono is no solution to the holes in the legal aid budget.
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