Monday 2 March 2015

Human rights plans ~ Legal Aid ~ Fee increases

What has happened regarding the much heralded Bill on Human Rights promised last autumn by the Secretary of State for Justice.  With only a month to go to the end of the present Parliament, it has not been published.  (General Election 2015 Timetable). 

Conservative Party plans for human rights reform were announced in October 2014 and they were severely criticised at the time - please see the various links at Human Rights - a look at the Conservative Party proposals (6th October 2014)

Writing in the Law Society Gazette 2nd March 2015, Joshua Rozenberg speculates
as to why the draft Bill has not been published - " ..... No doubt there will be some sort of commitment in the Conservative manifesto. But we may reasonably infer that Grayling’s plans are simply too incoherent to put into legislation. Either that or Cameron has decided that his draft bill of rights would simply not stand up to informed scrutiny."  For my part, I would use the phrase "legally illiterate" rather than the word "incoherent."

Also, in the Law Society Gazette are two other articles well worth reading:

Dinah Rose QC defends vital role of UK Human Rights Act

Andrew Caplen (Law Society President) - Human Rights Act sets right example

Legal Aid:

As far as the Labour Party is concerned, it seems that the cuts to legal aid already imposed are here to stay.  Sadiq Khan (Shadow Justice Secretary) has said that Labour cannot reverse Tory legal aid cuts.  However, the article also indicates that the test in relation to domestic violence will be reviewed.  The word "cannot" is interesting.  A future Parliament is as sovereign as its predecessor and so, as a matter of law, the cuts could be reversed.  That no Parliament may bind its successors is a fundamental principle of our uncodified constitution.  Presumably, he therefore means that there is political unwillingness to do so.

Fees to start proceedings:

Access to justice will receive another blow on 9th March with the introduction of higher fees to commence an action - Law Society Gazette 2nd March.  (The increase has yet to be approved in the House of Lords).

The Law Society gives the following examples:

One concerned a pensioner with a claim against a financial adviser for the loss of his entire pension fund, for which the fee for applying to begin court proceedings will increase from £910 to £5,000.

Another case study found that a young girl with brain damage due to a failure by doctors to diagnose meningitis as a toddler will now require £10,000 to mount any fight for a secure financial settlement.

This is disgraceful and has been condemned by the judiciary. The Law Society last week issued a pre-action protocol letter as the first step to obtaining a judicial review of the increases. The letter has been signed by the Bar Council, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the Commercial Bar Association, Action Against Medical Accidents and representatives of claimant and defendant lawyers.

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