Labour lays out plan to “widen access” to justice system

Corbyn: manifesto launch

There are many improvements that can be made both to the law and to court processes to ensure that justice is not simply “the preserve of the rich”, the Labour Party said today as Jeremy Corbyn unveiled its manifesto for next month’s election.

It included pledges to widen legal aid eligibility – the withdrawal of which has had “disturbing consequences for the delivery of justice” – and introduce no-fault divorce.

“Budget cuts mean that thousands are deprived of fair resolutions,” the manifesto said. “Justice is eroded by the poor decisions of privatised assessments, by the withdrawal of legal aid, by the removal of appeal rights, by the delays arising from overcrowded courts and by the costs of fees.”

Labour said it would reviewing the legal aid means tests, including the capital test for those on income-related benefits, and consider the reinstatement of other legal aid entitlements after receiving the final recommendations of the access to justice commission led by Lord Bach.

Other pledges included:

  • Reviewing the judicial appointments process, “to ensure a judiciary that is more representative of our society”;
  • Immediately re-establishing early advice entitlements in the family courts. “The shameful consequences of withdrawal have included a requirement for victims of domestic abuse to pay doctors for certification of their injuries. Labour’s plans will remove that requirement”;
  • Prohibiting the cross-examination of victims of domestic violence by their abuser in certain circumstances;
  • Reintroducing funding for the preparation of judicial review cases: “There are sufficient safeguards to discourage unmeritorious cases”;
  • Retaining the Human Rights Act 1998;
  • Consulting on establishing an environmental tribunal with simplified procedures to hear challenges to unlawful government decisions, like those made on the air quality strategy, “without engaging in prohibitively expensive processes”;
  • Abolishing employment tribunal fees;
  • While not prohibiting the courts from raising money to provide services, introducing a ratio to establish the maximum difference between actual costs and charges levied;
  • Extending the time period for applying for maternity discrimination to the employment tribunal from three to six months;
  • Continuing the work to extend the use of technology in the court service “where it enhances access to justice, timely dispute resolution and efficient administration”; and
  • Holding public inquiries into Orgreave and blacklisting, and releasing all papers relating to the Shrewsbury 24 trials and the 37 Cammell Laird shipyard workers.

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