Labour fights to empower citizens through law
The second of The Brief’s three-part series in which lawyers for the main national political parties make the case for the legal elements in their general election manifestos
Labour’s manifesto on justice tackles at its core accessibility, diversity and the protection of the rule of law in an exciting and challenging package that seeks to empower citizens and preserve the independence of the judiciary. While making it clear that a Labour government would retain the Human Rights Act, it lays down specific pledges in several key areas.
In the family court, it will immediately re-establish early advice entitlements and end the requirement for victims of domestic violence to pay doctors for certification of their injuries. Labour also promises to legislate to prohibit cross-examination of victims of domestic violence by their abuser.
The party promises to introduce “no fault” divorce and will review the legal aid means tests for those on income related benefits.
It pledges to examine the need for an environmental tribunal with simplified procedures to hear challenges to government decisions.
It recognises that government must be held to account and will re-introduce funding for the preparation of judicial review cases.
There is a rich vein of state accountability and righting wrongs in this document and Labour boldly pledges to promote public inquiries “into historic injustices”, specifically naming the Orgreave conflict between steelworkers and the police in 1984.
The manifesto commits to empowering citizens to challenge and expose the powerful. It shows no fear of powerful interest groups and, again, specifically names both the Shrewsbury 24 building workers convicted on the picket line and the 37 Cammell Laird Shipyard workers as trials from which Labour will release all papers into the public domain – potentially to expose government manipulation, despite the Tories wanting to ban them from scrutiny for decades.
In a section that could be taken directly from the Bar Council’s Manifesto for Justice, Labour pledges to review the judicial appointments process to ensure a judiciary that is more representative of society and will extend the use of technology in the court services where it embraces justice.
The crisis in legal aid is firmly recognised – the manifesto states that a Labour government would be significantly influenced by the ongoing Access to Justice Commission, which has been considering a wide range of proposals and solutions to the savage attacks on accessibility to justice.
This is a powerful, comprehensive and exciting statement and one which will go a long way to erasing the likes of Grayling and Truss from our justice system.
John Cooper, QC, of 25 Bedford Row chambers in London, is an advisor to the Access to Justice Commission, which is chaired by Lord Bach, Labour’s former shadow attorney-general