Lord Low announces “winding up” of commission

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14 April 2016

Lord Low

Lord Low: funding “increasingly hard to secure”

The independent Low Commission, which has produced a series of influential reports on the future of social welfare law, is to “start a process of winding up”, its chairman has announced.

Cross-bench peer Lord Low said that although the formal body would be wound up, there would be further work to “secure the commission’s legacy and influence”.

In the commission’s latest newsletter, Lord Low said the commission had considered undertaking further research, particularly on integrating advice services into the NHS, but this would “require further resources and funding which is increasingly hard to secure”.

A spokesman for the Low Commission told Legal Futures: “It doesn’t mean that we’re downing tools completely.

“Lord Low will continue to lobby and meet ministers and we will continue to take part in discussions and debates, but we are not producing further written reports.”

Since it was set up over three years ago, the Low Commission has produced a series of reports on the future of social welfare law at a time of government cuts.

The commission argued in a major report in 2014 that social welfare law was reaching a “crisis point” and called on the government to take a ‘no-holds barred’ approach, including cash from interest on solicitors’ client accounts.

Meanwhile, in a blog for the Bar Council, Lord Marks QC, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman in the Lords, admitted that access to justice had been “damaged” by LASPO and warned of the dangers of “flawed government technology projects”.

With the Lib Dems’ call for evidence on legal aid ending this week, he said: “Reductions in the scope of civil legal aid have had a serious impact on social welfare claimants, one of the most vulnerable groups in society, and have failed victims of domestic violence, who face an unnecessarily complex procedure before they can secure legal aid at a frightening and bewildering time in their lives.

“Exceptional case funding has worked badly, with very low take up, and a failure to clarify its availability, so that many who should in theory have access to a far smaller legal aid pot are not getting it.

“The restrictions on legal aid for judicial review permission applications have weakened government accountability.”

Lord Marks said greater use of technology in the courts needed “long-term commitment and properly thought-out procurement”, and although he welcomed the ‘drive towards digital’ by the judiciary, “too many flawed government technology projects have died after wasting millions”.

Lord Marks argued against court closures, saying “alternatives, such as the use of local buildings, have not yet been thoroughly explored”.

He concluded: “We must seek alternative ways of providing legal services to vulnerable people. This means better and widespread networks to give advice and support, as recommended by the Low Commission.”

Finally, the Bach Commission, set up in January this year by the Labour Party to review its policy on access to justice and chaired by the shadow justice minister Lord Bach, is set to publish its interim report later this month.

Retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Henry Brooke, a member of the commission, said in his latest blog that it had heard evidence from the Society of Labour Lawyers that increased numbers of litigants in person, court closures and cuts in staff working for the courts service had “created a ‘perfect storm’ of pressure” on the system.

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