The Lib Dems are a beacon for justice and humanity
The first of The Brief’s three-part series in which lawyers with the main national political parties make the case for how they would tackle legal issues if in government
Liberal Democrat lawyers argued that the party’s manifesto should include a strong narrative around rule of law and justice nationally and globally.
We were therefore pleased to see a section called “Defend Rights, Promote Justice and Equalities”. It makes clear that we see Brexit as a threat to international law and and co-operation while back home our cuts to legal aid have “denied effective access to justice”.
The manifesto commits to reversing court and tribunal fee increases, and to an urgent and comprehensive review of the dreaded “legal aid cuts law” – the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 – although we would have liked to have seen a clearer indication of what sort of system of legal advice and support should replace it. Nonetheless, the manifesto hints that some criminal legal aid for corporate crime could be covered through corporate insurance.
Lib Dem lawyers also argued that our manifesto offer must ensure that applicable rights and jurisdictional arrangements developed through European institutions are put into domestic legislation, including fundamental human rights and civil liberties, and also employment, social and economic rights.
The manifesto commits to retaining “international arrangements for jurisdiction” in civil and family law, staying within Europol and European criminal justice co-operation, defending the Human Rights Act and enshrining important international instruments like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in UK law.
The manifesto also recognises that “there are too many people in prison”, going on to say that “our reoffending rates are terrible and our prisons, many old and squalid, are in crisis”. The manifesto commits to a presumption against short term custody – promoting restorative justice and community justice panels and non-custodial sentencing [instead] – and [against] over-representation of individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds in the criminal justice system.
It also commits to rehabilitative prison reform, recognising that criminal justice policy must balance the rights of victims and offenders, it proposes a new victims’ bill of rights, funding a national rape crisis helpline with extended hours, and it commits to reviewing rules of evidence in sexual and domestic violence cases.
That strongly rights-based focus is replicated elsewhere in the manifesto – for example, committing to abolish the Tories’ “rape clause” and two-child policy on family benefits, scrapping the bedroom tax and the oppressive work capability test and oppressive sanctions system, extending childcare and parental leave rights and introducing new rights for carers.
On Brexit there are strong statements on the protection of rights for EU citizens and UK citizens, and on maintaining liberal immigration rights and free movement policies.
And there is a commitment to safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees and a welcoming asylum policy, especially in relation to unaccompanied refugee children and vulnerable Syrian. This shows a Lib Dem vision for Britain at its best, an open and fair country that is a beacon for justice and humanity.
James Sandbach is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Suffolk Coastal and is policy secretary for Lib Dem Lawyers; he has worked for a range of advice and legal advocacy charities.