Thursday, April 16, 2015

Liberal Democrat manifesto welcomed by advocates

The Bar Council's response to the Liberal Democrat manifesto:

"Neither main party will protect the Ministry of Justice budget, but judging from today's manifesto pledges from the Liberal Democrats, it looks like politicians are finally addressing the legal profession's concerns about access to justice," Alistair MacDonald QC, Chairman of the Bar, said yesterday.

"In a week of manifesto launches, today feels like it is third time lucky. "Promises were long over-due on reversing the hike in up-front court fees, reviewing tribunal fees, ensuring legal aid is available to those who need it and re-introducing legal aid for judicial review. But today they were delivered.

"The commitment to maintaining a viable, competitive and diverse market of legal aid providers is also one we can fully support.

"The legal sector has campaigned hard, this year in particular, to protect legal professional privilege from heavy-handed surveillance laws. Today we can see that has paid off as the Liberal Democrats have promised that judicial authorisation will be needed to eavesdrop on privileged communications, a safeguard the Bar Council has been demanding for some time. They also propose to introduce a Digital Bill of Rights and to deliver a 'complete overhaul' of surveillance powers in 2016.

"Provided opportunities for clients to be represented and heard in court remain, we support proposals such as promoting mediation and alternative dispute resolution, investment in IT and the development of online justice.

"We also look forward to hearing more about the Liberal Democrat strategy to fill the legal advice gap created by the LASPO cuts on areas including personal debt and social welfare.

"The Bar Council is keen to work with the new Government, whatever its complexion, on all these policy areas. At least some of the concerns voiced by the profession are being heard."
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