An eight-strong coalition of legal, consumer and campaigning groups today published their ?manifesto for justice? as part of a political campaign intended to strengthen justice and the rule of law.
AdviceUK, the Bar Council, the Institute of Legal Executives, Justice, the Law Centres Federation, the Legal Action Group, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and Liberty have all joined forces to promote three principles to politicians: good governance and the rule of law; respect for human rights and civil liberties; and access to justice.
The coalition calls for a range of measures, including: more courage in the debate over the need to reduce reliance on custodial sentences; less legislation and more practical action to tackle crime; improved access to justice, especially in family and social welfare law; and increased effort to convey the importance of respect for fundamental human rights.
The initiative is being launched in parliament tonight at a cross-party event supported by Conservative shadow justice minister Henry Bellingham MP, Labour chairman of the All Party Group for Legal and Constitutional Affairs Lord Brennan QC and Liberal Democrat frontbench justice spokesperson Lord Thomas of Gresford QC.
Roger Smith, director of Justice, said: ?A robust justice system is an essential part of a good society. While we have much to be thankful for in this country ? jury trial, the presumption of innocence and an independent judiciary ? we must not be complacent. The manifesto puts in writing what many feel needs to be preserved and enhanced within our judicial and legal system. It also makes practical proposals for reform, which we commend to those of all parties.?
Carol Storer, director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, said: ?The justice system is a vital part of today?s society, and we should not forget that it is designed to protect the weak and vulnerable when they need it most. Continued and ill-thought-through cuts to the legal aid budget will affect those least able to cope, and will only exacerbate the difficulty of obtaining face-to-face advice in those parts of the country which already have limited provision. Every member of society has the right to timely legal advice and representation, and we call on politicians of all backgrounds to support the aims and concerns set out in the manifesto.?
Nick Green QC, chairman-elect of the Bar Council, said: ?The manifesto is testament to the depth of feeling and commitment displayed by consumers, campaigners and all those working within the legal system. Publicly funded lawyers work incredibly long hours, often for modest remuneration, doing all they can to represent their clients, often in the face of huge systemic difficulties. The manifesto for justice considers the problems which the justice system must address if it is properly to meet the needs of society and protect the most vulnerable; a document which combines the experience and insight of eight such organisations deserves attention from politicians on all sides.?
The Law Society has not signed the manifesto. A spokeswoman said: ?The Law Society will soon be publishing a manifesto that reflects the interests and concerns of its own members as expressed by the solicitors working on its specialist committees and boards.'