To mark Justice Week, we have a series of blogs covering access to justice and all things related. Today, Mark Langsworthy introduces the concept of Justice Week.
29th October to 2nd November 2018 is ‘Justice Week’, an initiative by The Law Society, The Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.
Justice Week aims to promote the value of justice and the rule of law beyond the legal community, to highlight the impact which policy making has on access to justice and to draw the public’s attention to the role which the legal profession plays in facilitating that access.
The fact that the three legal professional bodies have chosen to expend time and effort on such an initiative is both encouraging and slightly depressing at the same time. Encouraging because if there was ever a time when respect for the rule of law and access to justice needed a boost it is now. Depressing because this shouldn’t really be necessary.
The importance of access to justice should not be something which needs to be highlighted; it should be a given.
Unfortunately, we appear to be living in a time when much of what we used to take for granted is now not guaranteed. As an example, the government is reportedly implementing plans to stockpile medicines in the event that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit causes disruptions to the supply chain. A few years ago, if you told someone that one of the richest economies in the world was stockpiling essential medicines they wouldn’t believe you. We have grown up expecting that we will have medicine if we need it. Similarly, if we need to seek legal redress, we expect a legal system which we can access, and which will treat us fairly.
Such things can no longer be taken for granted.
The cornerstone of any civilised society is to take care of those who are in need. This applies equally to someone needing medicine, a bed for the night or access to justice. When these things are withheld we can no longer call ourselves civilised. When the rule of law is diminished because access to justice is denied we are on a very slippery slope indeed.
To see the erosion of respect for the rule of law all you need to do is turn on the evening news. We are, apparently, in the ‘post-truth’ age where those in power can do what they like and brazenly dismiss it as ‘fake news’.
In America, the pro-gun lobby likes to say that owning a firearm is the ultimate protection for citizens against a tyrannical government. I respectfully disagree. The best protection that citizens have against a tyrannical or uncaring government is a strong and impartial judicial system and full access to it for everyone regardless of their social background, creed, colour, sexual orientation or balance of their bank account.
The same applies when someone is seeking access to justice against an unfair employer, is charged with a criminal offence or looking for redress against a rogue builder – or an ex-spouse who is refusing to make sensible arrangements following the break-up of a relationship. We assume that help will be available and are dismayed to find that it may not be because of policy decisions by successive governments.
These issues are felt keenly in the area of legally aided family law. Massive reductions in the availability of legal aid to those who need it and stagnant rates of remuneration for legal aid work (they have barely changed since I first began doing legal aid work in the mid-1990s) have heaped on the misery. It’s a miracle that more family lawyers have not just thrown their hands up in exasperation and walked away.
If this is not a denial of access to justice, I don’t know what is.
What we do
At The Family Law Company we are painfully aware of the stress the system is under. As a firm we feel passionately about access to justice, particularly for the vulnerable people who come through our doors, often anxious and hoping to find help and support.
We do what we can and have tried to bridge the gap left by cuts in legal aid by introducing our own reduced fees service for those who would struggle with legal fees but find that legal aid is not available to them. We continue to offer free initial interviews when many firms have withdrawn them. Several of our lawyers donate their own time to the community in volunteer roles.
Compared to many countries in the world we still have a justice system to be proud of. Justice Week is a timely reminder that this system is under great pressure. In an increasingly uncertain world policy makers need to get that message loud and clear.