£1 billion cash injection for modernisation of courts, zilch for legal aid
New plans unveiled today by Liz Truss have ruffled legal aid lawyers’ feathers, pledging a £1 billion investment for digital reform of the court system and yet there’s no talk of plugging the public funding gap.
In her first major announcement since becoming Lord Chancellor, Truss has penned a paper with the Lord Chief Justice in which she sets out her vision for “tomorrow’s justice system”.
At the centre of the joint paper, Transforming Our Justice System, is a new plan allowing vulnerable victims and witnesses to skip court and pre-record evidence instead, which will then be played during criminal trials.
Other key plans include scrapping paperwork and going digital in courts and tribunals across the country and allowing those defendants accused of fare-dodging to plead guilty and pay fines online.
Commenting on the latest report, which will be published today, Justice Secretary and MP for South West Norfolk, Truss, said:
We want a justice system that works for everyone. That means creating a system that is just, efficient and simple.
While the new report will include some interesting plans, what is concerning is what isn’t in the paper rather than what is. And, according to the legal twitterati, there is one glaring omission from Truss and co’s joint vision: legal aid.
The legal aid budget has fallen foul of intense public spending cuts in recent years forcing lawyers to take to the streets in widespread protests. For instance, estimates are that eleven law centres have closed since changes to the system in 2013. Of those which remain, revenues have been slashed by 40%.
Lawyers are disappointed that Truss is not prioritising this dire state of affairs with her first major announcement since becoming Lord Chancellor.
One criminal solicitor commented:
— Rod Young (@Bluebeetle1927) September 15, 2016
Siobhan Taylor-Ward, an asylum lawyer, said:
— Siobhan Taylor-Ward (@SiobhanTWard) September 15, 2016
The Young Legal Aid Lawyers’ group tweeted:
— YoungLegalAidLawyers (@YLALawyers) September 15, 2016