Statement from JustRights 13th December 2013
Our response to: Joint Committee on Human Rights report on legal aid reforms
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, an influential committee of MPs and peers, today published its report on The implications for access to justice of the Government's proposals to reform legal aid. The report strongly supports JustRights’ consistent arguments that the Government has failed to adequately protect access to justice for children and young people.
Key points in the report in relation to children and young people:
· The Committee states clearly: "We do not consider that the removal of legal aid from vulnerable children can be justified".
· The Government has failed to fully consider its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
· The Committee says that the proposals give little consideration to the access to justice problems that the legal aid residence test creates in relation to children and calls for all children to be exempted from the residence test.
· The Committee says that cuts to prison law legal aid "could leave young people vulnerable and deny them their rights" and calls for legal aid to remain for young offenders, particularly for cases regarding resettlement.
James Kenrick, Co-Chair of JustRights, said in response to the report:
“We welcome the publication of the JCHR’s report. It contains a clear reprimand for the Government regarding its failure to fulfill its duties to consider the specific needs of children and young people. Without better safeguards, children and young people will be disproportionately affected by the legal aid changes, further marginalised from access to justice and at greater risk of abuse, exploitation and harm.
“The Committee states that it is “sure that the Government does not intend vulnerable children to be left without legal representation”. If that is indeed the Government’s intention, then it must act without delay to implement the Committee’s recommendations, including:
· subjecting the changes to primary legislation to enable Parliamentary scrutiny;
· exempting children from the insidious residence test;
· reversing the changes to prison legal aid, which will make it harder for young people to resettle in the community.
“The Government must also revise its judicial review plans, which threaten to undermine the rule of law and give statutory authorities carte blanche to fail children and young people with impunity.”