Sustained attack on access to justice continues: June 2013
Leander Neckles is a free lance equalities consultant, a Board member of Equanomics-UK and a member of the Race Equality Coalition.
This article identifies overviews a number of key elements of what is proving to be a sustained attack on access to justice.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation on legal aid and our response
Last month’s newsletter highlighted the MoJ’s consultation on restricting or –in the language of the consultation – “transforming” legal aid. To recap, the main proposals are to:
- restrict the legal aid framework in terms of eligibility, scope and merits;
- increase competition in the criminal legal aid market;
- introduce changes and reduce fees in criminal legal aid and civil legal aid;
- make changes to expert fees in civil, family and criminal proceedings;
- change 'prison law to ensure that legal aid is not available for matters that do not justify the use of public funds such as treatment issues’;
- introduce ‘a household disposable income threshold above which defendants would no longer receive criminal legal aid’;
- introduce ‘a residence test for civil legal aid claimants’;
- introduce changes ‘to reduce the use of legal aid to fund weak judicial reviews’; and
- amend ‘the civil merits test to prevent the funding of any cases with less than a 50% chance of success’.
Our submission, draws on our collective experience of racial discrimination and racial inequalities, and concludes that, if implemented, the proposals would seriously reduce access to justice, increase racial and other inequalities and adversely impact on children, young people and adults from black and minority ethnic communities. Significantly, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s response says that ‘the proposed changes could breach equality and human rights laws by excluding vulnerable people from access to justice.’ The Guardian (4 June 2013 and 7 June 2013) and the Independent have also reported on a “deluge” of responses from the legal profession including from Her Majesty's circuit judges “damning” the proposals. For more briefings and submissions, please visit the Equality and Diversity Forum website.
We now await the response from the Ministry of Justice and Secretary of State, Chris Grayling and will update you in due course. However, we cannot rest our laurels because the MoJ has signaled that more restrictions, will be published in the Autumn to address the new universal credit system (MoJ consultation document paragraph 2.15)
New charges to use employment tribunals
A new law – the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 - makes provision for a system of fees for Employment Tribunal for the first time. The fees are supposed to come into force on 29th July 2013. Under the new system, claimants and employers are expected to pay a range of fees – for example for issuing a claim, hearings, submissions and certain applications. Although some exemptions have been proposed these are widely considered to be inadequate.
Unfortunately, and bizarrely given the planned implementation date is just one month away, whilst a letter has been sent to stakeholders confirming the planned implementation date of 29/7/13 and detailing the fees to be paid, as at 20/6/13, there appears to be no information available on the MoJ’s employment tribunal website detailing the final version of the new fees system, exemptions or how the system will work. We have however published the letters from April and May 2013 which provide the fee structure and understand that the MoJ:
- are also working on providing further guidance for tribunal users on new processes in the next few weeks.;
- will provide any updates will be published in the Employment Tribunal section of the Ministry of Justice website.
Further information will be provided as it becomes available.
A new Red Tape Challenge – the MOJ and a new review of Legal Services Regulation
The Ministry of Justice announced in June 2013 that it is conducting a review of the legal services statutory framework to “obtain more information about the challenges legal service providers face.”
According to the MoJ, the review “will consider what could be done to simplify the regulatory framework and reduce unnecessary burdens on the legal sector while ensuring there is still appropriate oversight. It will consider the full breadth of the legislative framework, covering at least 10 pieces of primary legislation and over 30 statutory instruments. “ To kick off the review the MoJ are issuing a ‘call for evidence’ from stakeholders. The MoJ says that the evidence provided will be analysed to identify potential ways in which the framework might be simplified. MoJ says that:
- it is “interested in hearing legal service providers’ concerns with, and ideas for reducing, regulatory burdens and simplifying the legal services regulatory framework”;
- it is “interested in ideas covering the overall legislative framework, and any specific provisions or aspects within it”;
- responses should be sent to the Legal Services Review, or to Legal Services Review, post point 4.41, Ministry of Justice, 102 Petty France, London SW1H 9AH, by 2 September 2013.