Labour announces policies on access to justice
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Marc Bloomfield
Shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, announced a number of radical policies in his speech to the Labour party conference on 22 September 2019.
Within 100 days of being elected, a Labour government would reverse the cuts to legal aid for early advice that were introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. In a press statement, he said: ‘Tory cuts to legal advice mean hundreds of thousands of people are unable to defend their hard-won rights. When that happens, equality before the law is a fiction, and without these protections people’s lives can often be torn apart.’
Burgon also pledged £20m to fund a new ‘golden era’ of law centres and to train 200 new social welfare lawyers. In his speech to the conference, he said that the new law centres would be ‘run by the community, for the community’ and would enable ‘working class communities to secure justice and defend their rights’.
The shadow justice secretary argued in his speech that ‘[c]uts have consequences’, pointing to the record levels of violence in prisons. He said prisons cannot be safe if they are not properly staffed and promised to ‘reverse the Tory cuts and restore prison officer numbers to 2010 levels’.
At a fringe meeting on the same day, hosted by the Society of Labour Lawyers, Burgon announced that he had appointed Steve Hynes, the former director of LAG, to chair a review of the work of the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). He said that many of the legal aid lawyers he spoke to told him the LAA was slow and bureaucratic in the way it worked.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal Aid will be holding an event, to be chaired by Alex Chalk, at the Conservative party conference. Chalk is the Conservative MP for Cheltenham and the vice-chair of the APPG on Legal Aid. The meeting will take place on 30 September 2019 at 4 pm at Slater and Gordon LLP, 58 Mosley Street, Manchester.
Next month, Legal Action will publish an article on what might be the last party conferences before a general election.

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