The first member of an ethnic minority to become Law Society President in 2021-2022
I am delighted to confirm (if you missed it) that Council Member Stephanie Boyce has been elected to the role of Deputy Vice-President of the Law Society. This means that in the Presidential year 2021 to 2022, the Law Society will have its sixth woman President and first President drawn from the BAME legal community.
This is wonderful news for many reasons, not least that it is just reward to Stephanie for the many years of diligent hard work in serving the Law Society in many different roles. It also demonstrates that the Law Society is moving with the times and becoming more representative of a profession the majority of whose members are female and which is increasingly ethnically diverse.
I wish Stephanie all the very best for the next three years as she progresses from Deputy Vice-President, to Vice-President and then to President. I am sure she will do an outstanding job throughout.
LASPO 2012 and the Rule of Law
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was brought in by the Coalition Government as part of its “austerity” measures. It’s aim was to reform the civil and criminal justice system and also reduce the Ministry of Justice’s budget. The latter objective was achieved in various ways, but principally by closing courts, spending less money on their upkeep, and reducing the Government’s Legal Aid bill.
In terms of changes to the Legal Aid system, this meant the withdrawal of financial support for most cases involving housing, welfare, medical negligence, employment, debt and immigration and a reduction in the amount lawyers were paid for Legal Aid work. Insofar as Legal Aid remained available, the barriers to obtaining public funding were made more difficult to overcome. You may remember solicitors and barristers going on strike in protest to the changes which would inevitably reduce access to justice.
In 2013, Lord Neuberger (as President of the Supreme Court) warned that the Government’s reforms undermined the rule of law, because of the reduced availability of Legal Aid. This would mean that legal representation would become unaffordable to a much larger proportion of the population than previously. The inevitable outcome would be that an individual with a viable claim (or defence) would either abandon it (a denial of justice) or go to court as a litigant in person (an unacceptably poor outcome).
Fast forward to last week and Lord Neuberger (now retired and able to speak more candidly) returned to this theme on Radio 4’s Today Programme. He stated: “I have little doubt that unless we change direction the rule of law will become seriously under threat. If we don’t pull ourselves together and start sorting things out the route we are going down will lead to a breakdown of the rule of law.” We should heed the words of the distinguished retired Judge.
It would appear that many of us have grown complacent about the rule of law and its fundamental importance within a well-functioning liberal democracy. The rule of law is one of the twin pillars supporting a civilised society, the other being democracy. There is little doubt that democracy is in crisis. If, as seems certain, the rule of law is also under threat, where does that leave us all as we face the multifarious uncertainties and risks that the rise of populism and BREXIT will mean to each and every one of us, but especially the most disadvantaged members of our communities.