Letter: Access to justice

Sir: The Access to Justice Bill is now being scrutinised by a Commons standing committee. MPs have a brief opportunity to improve this highly flawed measure. The opportunity must not be wasted. As currently drafted, the Bill will remove legal aid assistance from thousands of our most vulnerable people and widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Where is this Government's commitment to equality? Where is its commitment to end social exclusion? A new clause to guarantee non-discrimination and an "equal footing" for all before the law has already been dismissed as a "gimmick" by the Lord Chancellor. The Government has also flouted its own guidelines of November 1998 which require all measures to be screened for their potential to discriminate, both directly and indirectly. The Bill is in its later stages in Parliament, yet no assessment of its equal- treatment impact has appeared.

The Lord Chancellor has given his Bill a bold and unambiguous name. Only if he accepts a number of important amendments in the coming weeks will the substance of the Bill match the title.



The Law Society

London WC2