The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am chair, today publishes our report on enforcing human rights. The report finds that cuts to legal aid and government reforms to the system mean that for many people enforcement of their human rights is now simply unaffordable. This is gravely concerning for access to justice and the rule of law.
Large areas of the country are now “legal aid deserts”, as practitioners withdraw from providing legal aid services since they can no longer afford to do this work.
For rights to be effective they have to be capable of being enforced.
To do this, we must have adequate and equality of access to legal information and advice; a robustly independent judiciary and legal profession; strong National Human Rights Institutions, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission and a culture which understands the concept of the rule of law, respects human rights and which is supported by the Government.
At the moment we are seeing the erosion of all of those enforcement mechanisms because of a lack of access to justice and lack of understanding of the fundamental importance of human rights and the rule of law.
The Government must act urgently to address this.
Government, Parliament, the media and the legal profession all have a responsibility to consider the importance of the rule of law, and the role that rights which can be enforced through an independent court system, plays in that.
Government must exercise self-restraint and refrain from criticising the judiciary and legal profession.
This report comes as the Government reviews the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and puts forward recommendations to feed into that review.