Kerry Underwood

APOCALYPTIC WARNING BY SUPREME COURT PRESIDENT

with 6 comments


Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, addressed the Australia Bar Association Conference in London last month.

Referring to the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union he said:

“… left, once again to our common law devices, we will in some respects be able to react more quickly and freely to developments in our fast changing world.”

Lord Neuberger continued

“… we have a serious problem with access to justice for ordinary citizens and small and medium sized businesses,” and that in England and Wales legal assistance services are increasingly under-resourced leaving millions without adequate access to quality legal advice and assistance and that whilst there is universal agreement that more funding is needed, there is little appetite by government to make this a priority.

Lord Neuberger said that lawyers and judges could not “get away with standing on the side lines and criticising; they have a heavy duty to do all they can to support and improve access to justice for ordinary citizens and small businesses.”

He also criticised the UK government’s “somewhat parsimonious funding of BAILII, which provides extraordinary value for money.” While praising the legislation.gov.uk website for ensuring that new statutes are available reasonably quickly he said that “the updating service to deal with amendments and repeals is little short of lamentable with amendments and repeals sometimes not being recorded more than six years after the event. It should not cost much for the UK government to ensure that its legislation website is kept up to date, so that current legislation is freely available to everyone.”

Lord Neuberger said that access to legal advice and representation is “of course a fundamental ingredient of the rule of law, and the rule of law together with democracy is one of the two principal columns on which a civilised modern society is based.

It is simply wrong, and fundamentally wrong at that, if ordinary citizens and businesses are unable to obtain competent legal advice as to their legal rights and obligations, and competent legal representation to enforce those rights and test those obligations in court. Obtaining advice and representation does not merely mean that competent lawyers exist; it also must mean that their advice and representation are sensibly affordable to ordinary people and businesses: access to justice is a practical, not a hypothetical, requirement. And if it does not exist, society will eventually start to fragment. That is not merely a fragmentation in the sense of the gulf between rich and poor, which leads to real frictions and difficulties if it gets too wide. It is a fragmentation which arises when people lose faith in the legal system; they then lose faith in the rule of law, and that really does undermine society. The sad truth is that in countries with a long peaceful and democratic history such as the UK (and, I suspect, Australia), we face the serious risk that the rule of law is first taken for granted, is next consequently ignored, and is then lost, and only then does everyone realise how absolutely fundamental it was to society.”

He continued:

“It verges on the hypocritical for governments to bestow rights on citizens while doing very little to ensure that those rights are enforceable. It has faint echoes of the familiar and depressing sight of repressive totalitarian regimes producing wonderful constitutions and then ignoring them.”

The President of the Supreme Court went on to say that the complexity of legislation and the growth in regulation made it harder than ever for non-lawyers to establish their rights and duties and the need for access to legal advice is thus greater than it ever was.

He said that the “flag-wavingly” named Access to Justice Act 1999, by which the then Labour Government severely restricted civil legal aid, was “frankly very hard to defend.”

He went on severely to criticise the regime of recoverability of additional liabilities introduced by the same Act.

While welcoming the repeal of those provisions in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, Lord Neuberger said that “it also confirmed a severe shrinking in the type of civil law cases for which legal aid could be available and severe shrinking of legal aid in most private family law cases.”

Lord Neuberger then considered in detail the problems occasioned by litigants in person and looked at the possibility of a contingency legal aid fund.

He criticised the closing of local courts stating that while that may improve efficiency it risks removing justice from the people “or maybe it would risk removing the people from justice.”

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Written by kerryunderwood

August 25, 2017 at 7:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses

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  1. Hear hear !

    Sarah Lapsley

    August 25, 2017 at 8:57 am

  2. Well said Lord Neuberger and thank you Kerry for bringing this to our attention so promptly.

    Nick Bettridge

    August 25, 2017 at 4:13 pm

  3. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    Tip of the looming ‘access to justice’ iceberg:
    “While welcoming the repeal of those provisions in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, Lord Neuberger said that “it also confirmed a severe shrinking in the type of civil law cases for which legal aid could be available and severe shrinking of legal aid in most private family law cases.”

    Lord Neuberger then considered in detail the problems occasioned by litigants in person and looked at the possibility of a contingency legal aid fund.

    He criticised the closing of local courts stating that while that may improve efficiency it risks removing justice from the people “or maybe it would risk removing the people from justice.””

    truthaholics

    August 26, 2017 at 1:55 pm

  4. daveyone1

    August 27, 2017 at 11:01 pm


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