6 March 2013

The cost of justice in biting in New Zealand.  Proposals for changing legal aid access to the Family Court is one example. The Law Society and even some judges have expressed concern.  In Britain where the economy is more gloomy than here, the Government intends that the justice sector should bear a share of reduced expenditure which will have a similarly substantial impact.  The reaction from some leading judges appears close to conflicting with the convention that the branches of government respect their respective roles and are discrete in any criticisms.

There has been concern about a freezing of judicial salaries,  options being considered for changing judges pension arrangements and more operational impacts like the increase of assaults in prisons and prisoner escapes, which reflect funding changes in the sector.

A dramatic cut back in legal aid is seen by the new President of the UK Supreme Court as undermining the magna carta principle that “to no man shall we deny justice”.  Reductions in funding for legal aid will affect more than 585,000 people seeking assistance in family and criminal cases. He also spoke critically of moves by the Government to limit the jurisdiction in Britain of the European Court of Human Rights which he sees an attack on human rights.  Ironically while criticising the government for neglecting “…one of its fundamental roles…” of ensuring rule of law – including access to justice, he showed a sensitivity to what he claimed were inappropriate attacks by the government on the judiciary.

The House of Lords has given a forum for senior judges to share their opinions as the Supreme Court is no longer comprised of judges with rights as members of the House of Lords.  The Constitution Committee will take evidence each year from senior judges.  Last month the President of the Supreme Court and his Deputy spoke on issues affecting the judiciary including their views on whether the judiciary is adequately represented in Parliament and Government. The Committee asked about the effectiveness of the Supreme Court, its funding, the court’s expectation that its staff should be independent from government, judicial review developments, and changes  to the appointment of judges, including encouraging women to seek judicial roles.

An interesting part of the judges’ evidence related to possible consequence of Scotland withdrawing from the Supreme Court as the final court of appeal in the same way that New Zealand withdrew from sending cases to what was then the Privy Council.