Authors:Rohini Jana
Last updated:2023-09-18
APPG on Access to Justice: a greater mandate and a stronger voice
Marc Bloomfield
Description: APPG on Access to Justice
In the 14 or so years of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal Aid’s existence, the emphasis was always on access to justice. That justice rests on ensuring that those in need of help, be they rich or poor, can secure expert advice, advocacy and representation when they need it. The APPG on Legal Aid was a voice for the sector in parliament and served as a platform for discussion and debate on issues such as the Grenfell tragedy, access to legal aid for housing and social welfare cases, the role of technology in advancing access to justice, legal aid deserts, legal aid for survivors of domestic abuse, public legal education, and many other topics. We also provided comprehensive training to caseworkers and MPs through the House of Commons Learning and Development Team and Library, and conducted a six-month Inquiry into the Sustainability and Recovery of the Legal Aid Sector. We spent the years since the inquiry discussing those findings and recommendations with policymakers at every level.
Established in July 2009 by Dr Laura Janes with the brilliant Karen Buck MP as chair, the APPG on Legal Aid’s members over the years included Sir Keir Starmer, Dominic Grieve, Lord Charlie Falconer, James Daly, Lord Colin Low and Daisy Cooper. Belief in what we were doing united us more than party lines divided. We also counted the (current) lord chancellor among our most long-standing and supportive members.
Almost 14 years later, on the evening of 20 June 2023, under the ancient stone of the House of Lords and with a blazing blue sky outside, there was perhaps a whisper of optimism as Alex Chalk KC MP, a self-professed ‘legal aid barrister who does a bit of politics’, announced the launch of the new APPG on Access to Justice, the product of a merger between the APPG on Legal Aid and the APPG on Pro Bono and Public Legal Education. The room itself was filled with well-wishers and representatives from every part of the sector: criminal barristers and Law Centres, students and academics, parliamentarians, and legal aid grandees such as Baroness Helena Kennedy and Lord Willy Bach.
Not one of us doubts that, ahead of the next general election, we have a fight on our hands to put justice issues back onto an agenda dominated by crises in the economy, education, health and elsewhere. We know that the next few years will be critical to the survival of the justice sector, and that we need every ally and every argument that we can marshal. Legal aid deserts are expanding around England and Wales, and while the hope is that the long-awaited Civil Legal Aid Review will repair some of the damage done to the profession, the signs thus far aren’t promising, and the reality is that these gaps in advice services and provision will have to be fixed in all manner of ways by lawyers and caseworkers, by legal aid and pro bono, and by the use of technology. It is our hope that by uniting the APPGs in this way, and with Labour and Conservative co-chairs at the helm, we will have a stronger voice to raise these issues in parliament and to advocate on behalf of the profession over the coming months.