The Bach Report was launched at a cross party in the House of Commons on 1 November 2017. Chaired by Lord Bach, the Commissioners, including Sir Henry Brooke and Carol Storer, were present to answer questions and take comments. Lord Beecham was also present and added his support.
The report was commissioned in 2015 by Jeremy Corbyn, giving rising concerns about both the impact of cuts to legal aid on the most vulnerable in society and the apparent lack of interest on the part of the Ministry of Justice to conduct a full review. Sadly very few, if any, Tory MPs, attended.
The report echoes the report of the LAPG, the Law Society, and the very many concerned interest groups who have contributed over the last two years. The most startling information was that the cuts were supposed to save £450 million per year but have in fact saved £900 million per year, giving power to the proposal that they have gone way further than the Ministry of Justice intended, and that the proposed reforms can be well afforded, and should be put into immediate effect. Lord Bach and others said in opening remarks, quite rightly, that if a sizable proportion of society cannot enforce their rights when removed, then they effectively don’t exist, and that is an untenable position.
The main points of the report cover the need for a Right to Justice Act, which would embed into statute law the right to legal assistance for all. It would give Judges power to order the Legal Aid Agency to grant legal aid in cases where it was refused. Other aspects concentrate on the reintroduction of legal aid in all cases involving children, which would cover not only family law, but Personal Injury, Clinical Negligence, and Immigration. It advocates greater ease for victims of Domestic abuse to obtain legal aid, legal aid as a right in inquests, and proper remuneration for Judicial Review. The reintroduction of ‘early advice’ (CW1 work) is also proposed.
On the administrative side recommendations include a new administrative legal aid body completely independent of Government, with legally trained staff, and an overhaul of CCMS. All people in receipt of benefits should get legal aid automatically, and without repeated means reassessments. Also on the means side, Bach states that the contribution system would be made simpler and much more affordable. The inevitable overhaul of Exceptional case funding is also recommended.
Legal education, and advice in schools about human rights is proposed so that younger generations are able to recognise when they have a legal problem and that they can get help. This is not a new proposal and successive Governments have been bound by it through the Human Rights Conventions (including CEDAW) since ratification, but the importance of stressing it is to educate the public to see legal aid as their right, rather than just how ‘fat cat lawyers’ get paid.
Lastly a new Justice Commission is proposed which would be independent of Government and would oversee all issues relating to Access to Justice, and with the power to intervene in cases where merited to obtain the right outcome.
The Fabian Society who have worked with the Bach Commission have costed the proposals at £400 million, which would still leave the Ministry of Justice with more savings from LASPO than planned. There is some early and tentatively positive support coming from the Ministry of Justice. It is important that we all get behind this report and support it. This is the most hopeful I have felt since LASPO came into force in April 2013.
We are proud to have contributed to the Bach Report.
Blog by Cris McCurley, Partner and Family Solicitor