Author Archives: James Sandbach

Farron and Lamb respond to questions from Liberal Democrat Lawyers

The Lib Dem Lawyers’ Association asked our leadership candidates Tim Farron and Norman Lamb a number of questions to probe their positions on key legal issue debates. First off we asked about the rule of law as a liberal principle and as you might expect received positive responses. On all our questions both candidates gave good responses, though sometimes with a different emphasis – you can read the responses in full here. There were a number of themes:-

On Access to Justice both took anti-LASPO (the legislation which cut back the scope of civil legal aid) positions – although both at the time voted for the legislation, Norman said “We were wrong…. this was quite possibly our biggest mistake in the last government” whilst Tim said “I don’t think anyone could now defend the LASPO Act’s reforms and we need to think again.” As someone who lobbied all our MPs incessantly on this issue, I’m pleased to hear that, although much damage to free legal advice sector has already been done. On criminal legal aid, Norman also spoke about “modernising the criminal justice system” whist Tim spoke about “ending the deserts in provision.”

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Opinion: Getting back to the manifesto

libdemmanifesto 2010 wordleGetting this right is probably the foremost challenge the Party faces. Earlier year the Social Liberal Forum conducted an online survey, including open comments, over the contents of the Party’s pre-manifesto themes document and consultation. Although the response rates were low and mostly SLF members, it gives an interesting insight into what some party think of the work done on manifesto thinking to date.

The “Stronger economy, fairer society” theme

77% supported the slogan, 23% did not, but the majority of comments including from those who said “yes” thought it a …

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Tribunal justice – do our Parliamentary Parties ‘get’ it?

Brighton Spring Conference unanimously supported a motion on justice in social security tribunals – a critical issue as welfare reform begins recalibrating everyone’s social security rights and entitlement, and specialist legal aid advice to challenge decisions disappears. This is the fifth time Conference has debated and challenged the Government’s legal aid reforms. In Sheffield 2011, I summated an access to justice motion criticising the Ministry of Justice’s outline proposals, in Birmingham, autumn 2011 and again in Brighton 2012 I proposed amendments to welfare reform motions calling to reinstate legal aid for welfare rights, whilst in Gateshead an amendment

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Opinion: Conference votes again on access to justice, Parliamentarians should follow

For the third Party conference in a row, Liberal Democrats  voted for a policy motion covering legal aid and access to justice directly contrary to the Government’s legal aid reforms – in the Legal Aid, Sentencing Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) – reaching their final stages in Parliament. Gateshead conference voted to ensure that “the scope of civil legal aid covers appropriate legal help and assistance in categories of law where the issues raised are of substantial importance.. and which cannot be settled by alternative dispute resolution” but night after night I see our Peers voting to remove category after …

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The unintended costs and consequences of legal aid cuts

Inevitably when policy-makers design cuts packages they look at the short-term – savings achievable in particular department budgets within the spending review period. More holistic assessments, looking at where other public services ‘pick up the tab’ for another budget’s austerity measures, and the ‘displaced demand’ or ‘knock on costs’ that arise, are left for another day. This has been brought home with the Government’s legal aid reforms now before Parliament; an Independent report from a Kings College economist suggests the contribution of these cuts towards “deficit reduction” will be negligible, owing to the public costs of unresolved legal …

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Opinion: Access to justice – why Liberal Democrats should not sit on the sidelines

Next week the Government will announce legislation to reform legal aid, following a Green Paper published last November to which the Ministry of Justice received an unprecedented 5,000 responses. Whilst “legal aid reform” was in the Coalition Agreement, the scale of proposed changes has taken many aback – in order to cut the legal aid budget by £350million, Justice Ministers propose taking whole categories of law related problems out legal aid entitlement – housing and debt problems, welfare benefit issues, employment law issues, immigration cases, consumer law problems, education cases and private family law issues (eg divorce and …

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