Bar demands new lord chancellor after election

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May 09, 2017
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Liz Truss has been criticised for failing to defend judges who were attacked by newspapers

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The next government must appoint a lord chancellor who commands the authority of lawyers, Bar leaders said yesterday.

In a pre-general election wish list, the Bar Council – which represents 15,000 barristers in England and Wales – said the lord chancellor “has a specific duty to continue to uphold the independence of our judges”. It called on the next government to “demonstrate its determination to fulfil this responsibility through a lord chancellor whose experience is combined with the requisite authority among ministerial colleagues to defend the independence of the judiciary and ensure that they have the support that is necessary to enable them to exercise their functions”.

Liz Truss – who will have been lord chancellor and justice secretary for less than a year when the country goes to the polls on June 8 – has faced a rising chorus of criticism ever since she failed to speak out quickly in defence of the High Court judges who were attacked in some newspapers after their ruling that article 50, which begins the process of leaving the EU, could not be invoked without parliament’s consent.

The Bar Council wish list also echoed last week’s call from the Law Society, the solicitors’ body, for the next government to reverse cuts to legal aid funding. Bar leaders pointed out that over the last ten years government spending on legal aid had been slashed by a third to £1.6 billion annually. “The need for representation in housing, in immigration and in welfare cases persists,” it said.

The Bar pointed to a recent survey of London MPs’ surgeries that showed that nearly 90 per cent of the issues raised by constituents were legal. “The number of litigants in person in family courts is another visible sign of the problem,” said the Bar’s manifesto. “The loss of nearly £1bn [of] legal aid support has effectively disenfranchised a whole sector of society from obtaining access to justice. Government should reintroduce legal aid to assist vulnerable citizens who are currently left to fend for themselves.”

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