Keir Starmer

Gove is right on our two-tier justice system – but cuts caused this crisis

Keir Starmer writes for The Guardian:

We must modernise our courts but that won’t address the fact that those who need it most are failed by the system. Only investment can redress the balance.

Michael Gove, the lord chancellor, has said that we have a two-tier justice system. One for the wealthy and one for everyone else. Those let down most badly, he said, were victims and witnesses of crime and children who have been neglected.

Gove is right. It is now widely accepted that there is a significant gap in the delivery of justice. The highly regarded report published recently by Justice,under the watchful eye of Sir Stanley Burnton, a former court of appeal judge, starts with the words: “Our justice system is in crisis.” Although proposing a new model of dispute resolution to ease the pressure in our civil courts, the report acknowledges that “it will not in itself be sufficient to bridge the current inequality gap in the justice system”.

However, when it comes to the cause of the inequality in our justice system, Gove identifies only, as he put it, “antiquated ways of working”. Having argued for a reformed, modernised justice system for many years, I accept that changes are urgently needed to bring our courts into the 21st century. But that alone is not enough.

What the lord chancellor ignores is the impact of the decisions taken by the coalition government in the last five years. Access to our civil courts has been severely restricted by the combination of: the removal of legal aid from some cases based on their type, not their merit; a high financial threshold for the receipt of legal aid in other cases; and a failure to deliver a safety net for vulnerable individuals by the exceptional funding arrangements.

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