I recently attended a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in
Liverpool focussing on Access to
Justice. One disturbing comment from Shadow Lord Chancellor, Richard Burgon prompted
this post. He predicted a critical shortage of Legal Aid Lawyers in the future.
Where will the next generation of campaigning lawyers come from?
My first real job as a solicitor was at the Vauxhall Law Centre in
Liverpool. Back in the early 1980s
this Law Centre was in the heart of some of the worst housing in Europe. I applied because it was an interesting and
challenging job. I would not have called myself a campaigning lawyer when I started,
although that soon changed! The first time you visit a flat with sh*t all over
the floor from a backed up toilet changes everything. During my years at the
Law Centre I was never short of willing volunteers – law students who saw
social welfare law as a career option and wanted real experience. And there was
no shortage of opportunities. There were two law centres in Liverpool and one
There were also firms which specialised in legal aid work – remember those
What a difference a few decades makes! Only a few weeks ago I wrote about the absence of any housing lawyers offering legal aid in
Thankfully that has been resolved. There is now one brave solicitor in the entire county!
Earlier this year, the Law Society published figures which showed that the average Criminal Duty Solicitor was 47. Within a few years there could be a desperate shortage –
Considering the current state of our criminal justice system, we are unlikely to see queues of young lawyers wanting to earn an uncertain and meagre living –
Our Universities do a fantastic job with their Law Clinics which enable students to do proper legal work. But they will tell you that this is no substitute for legal aid. Is anyone listening?
It is encouraging to hear the Shadow Justice Minister pledge support for a new generation of young lawyers; promising funding for training opportunities. It was also encouraging to hear his commitment to supporting a new wave of Law Centres.
But this should not really be a party political issue. Access to Justice is, or should be, a basic human right. What is the point of having rights if you need money to enforce them? The real answer lies in the return to a properly funded system of legal aid, across the country which would breathe life into welfare law across the country and provide a whole new landscape for committed young lawyers.