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On 14 December 2017, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate a motion moved by Lord Bach (Labour) on the “report of the Bach Commission, The Right to Justice, published in September”. 

Legal aid is a system of government-funded legal support for people who are unable to pay for legal advice or representation. It has undergone changes since it was first introduced in its modern form following the Second World War. Most recently, the system was amended by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012—known as LASPO. This legislation reduced the range of issues for which civil legal aid was available and changed the financial eligibility criteria for receiving legal aid. It also replaced the Legal Services Commission, an executive non-departmental body that had previously held operational responsibility for legal aid, with the Legal Aid Agency, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. 

Following criticism that LASPO was restricting individuals’ right to access the justice system if they did not meet the new eligibility requirements for legal aid and could not afford to engage the services of a lawyer themselves, Lord Bach (Labour) proposed a Labour-led review into the legal aid system in England and Wales. Following approval from the leadership of the Labour Party, he formed a Commission to investigate the issue of access to justice. Sir Henry Brooke, a former Vice-President of the Court of Appeal, agreed to serve as vice-chair. The Fabian Society supported the Commission’s work, though the Commission has stated that it retained full editorial control of its reports and conclusions.

The Commission published its final report in September 2017. The primary recommendation of its report was for a new statutory right to justice set out in a Right to Justice Act. This would codify and supplement existing rights, for example those set out in Magna Carta and the Human Rights Act 1998. The Act would also establish a new right for individuals to receive reasonable legal assistance, without costs they could not afford. A new Justice Commission would promote, develop and enforce that right. Alongside these proposals, the report suggested a number of policy changes that would need to be implemented in order to comply with the suggested Act.

The Government has since launched a post-implementation review of LASPO.

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