Letter: Access to justice

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Ashley Holmes' article "Access to justice is not just a gimmick" (4 March) shows the dangers of taking parliamentary debate on the new clause in the Access to Justice Bill out of context.

The new "principles" clause imposed on the Bill was unnecessary. It was forced into the Bill, when the Government had already proposed its own amendments which clearly set out the separate purposes of the Community Legal Service and the Criminal Defence Service. The new clause creates confusion by trying to cover two distinct schemes with a single set of objectives.

Bizarrely, the clause seeks only to prevent discrimination against the disabled, whose interests are already protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; it does not mention other vulnerable groups.

Also, some parts of the new clause are unrealistic. They suggest that the taxpayer should meet any legal costs that a person wants to incur but cannot afford: without any test of merits, or any consideration of the ways in which the case could otherwise be brought forward, for example, under a no win, no fee agreement, and without any recognition that not everyone can have a solicitor's office on the doorstep, any more than a hospital or a supermarket.

I want to maximise access to justice and to provide high-quality services as widely as possible, within reasonable limits on the resources available from the taxpayer's pocket. Those ends are not achieved by including defective clauses in Bills. My criticisms were about the drafting of the clause, and the way it was proposed ahead of more sensible alternatives, not the sentiments underlying it.

Lord IRVINE OF LAIRG

Lord Chancellor

House of Lords

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