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Law Society president criticises access to justice restrictions

25th Feb 2015

Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society, recently appeared at the Global Law Summit (GLS) and took the opportunity to once again express his opposition to the government reforms on access to justice.

In a speech at a plenary session on the globalisation of sport at the GLS, Caplen stated that the ‘major theme’ he has taken as president is the pressing concern of access to justice, something he highlighted as being of great relevance given that it is the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, ‘the foundation of the rule of law in this country’. Without access to justice, Caplen stated that ‘the rule of law is just an empty concept’, as there is no way rights can be exercised, nor duties enforced.

Previous to this, the Law Society, alongside the Bar Council and CILEx among others, issued the government with a pre-action protocol letter challenging plans to increase court fees by a huge 600%, thereby initiating the first stage of judicial review proceedings. A recent survey of around 200 solicitors found that with higher court fees, the total value of cases brought by individuals would likely fall by around a third, with claims brought by small and medium-sized companies likely halving.

Such figures have prompted concerns that an increase in court fees would have a further impact on access to justice for both individuals and businesses alike, as fewer would be able to afford the higher rates. The letter issued by the groups will ask the government to provide information on how money it expects to raise through higher fees, and what it will spend the resulting money on, as well as how the modernisation of the court services will appear in the government’s accounts.

This is not the first time lawyers have used the GLS as a forum to attack government plans to reform the legal system. Caplen furthered his concerns by adding that government policy on ‘enhanced court fees’ effectively amounted to ‘a flat tax on those seeking justice’.