A campaign calling for major revision to the delivery of legal services held its first public meeting at the House of Commons last week.
The Campaign for a National Legal Service, brainchild of Austin Mitchell MP, long-time voice of the legal services consumer, is calling for a statutory right to legal services to remedy what it sees as a “massive unmet need” resulting from the failure of the legal aid system.
“The campaign takes us back to core values,” said Mitchell. “To public service, value for money, democratic accountability – away from hierarchy, profiteering at the public expense and price-fixing by self-selecting oligarchies.”
He criticised the profession for “hijacking” policy imple-mentation and the Govern-ment's attempts to control expenditure for the “enormous middle ground” of people not poor enough to get legal aid but not rich enough to pay a lawyer.
The debate on provision of legal services was welcomed by Paul Boateng MP, Labour legal affairs spokesman, who attended the meeting. He said: “Labour's commitment is to a community legal service, as set out in our policy document Access to Justice. Austin has a track record as a robust defender of consumer interests and while I cannot endorse the aims of his campaign, any contribution to the legal services debate is always welcome.”
The campaign, in addition to calling for a statutory right to legal services, is also urging for a package of reforms including a legal services commission, Ministry of Justice, judicial appointments board, national network of public defenders and law centres and direct access to the Bar.