Authors:Sue James
Last updated:2024-07-01
Hope is the thing …
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Parliament (iStock_sedmak)
With the general election fast approaching as I write, it is hard not to mention it, but equally hard to cover it without a crystal ball (despite claims of a forthcoming landslide victory for Labour). By the time you read this, you will have the benefit of knowing – but I don’t. Fingers crossed!
Having been at the front line of legal advice for much of the past 14 years of coalition and Conservative government (and for many before that), I hope that the people with lived experience of the austerity agenda – those pernicious policies and cuts to social and public services – will vote for change. I hope that those who have witnessed the effects of the austerity agenda – and even those who haven’t but understand its effect – will do the same.
When a friend, a doctor in the NHS, said to me recently that the justice system has suffered worse cuts than the health service, it gave me a glimmer of hope that the wider public are starting to take notice. The Guardian has reported that nearly 19,000 NHS patients were left waiting for three days in A&E over the period of April 2023 to March 2024, but we don’t have similar data for justice, or an understanding of the direct and indirect cuts in the justice budget. This chronic lack of resources has an impact across all of our lives and, as Lady Hale said at the launch of the newly formed Leicester Community Advice and Law Centre (LCALC – see page 4 of this issue): ‘It isn’t just another public service like rubbish collection or cutting the grass … it is more than that, it is an essential function of government.’
It is always a pleasure to listen to Lady Hale, and good to know that she is in the House of Lords. Although unelected, the Lords are prepared to fight against those pernicious policies of government and to speak out, as Lady Hale did on funding:
Our justice system is not properly resourced despite the secretary of state for justice swearing an oath to do so. I have watched innumerable secretaries of state swear that oath, and I sympathise with some of the recent incumbents, who do understand but have found it difficult to claw back resources which were given up in austerity. The justice system has been deprived of 40 per cent of resources during the years of austerity, a greater level of cuts than any public-facing department. Totally shocking.
‘Hope’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen’. I have a desire for change in the election but not an expectation that any new government will be the answer to the problems that we have in the justice system. I believe that hope, and then change, lies in the power of community, and that is why I worked for so long in the Law Centre movement, and why I have been instrumental in the development of two, first in Ealing and then in North Wales. Law Centres use the law as a tool for social change in their communities and community is power.
Margaret Mead said: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’ In my experience, this is true. Just last weekend, I was in Llandudno at the third strategy day of the (now renamed) North Wales Community Law (we can’t be a Law Centre yet as we had problems with recruiting). I was reminded that the first meeting to set up the centre in North Wales was in January 2017. Since then, there has been a steady gathering of like-minded people from across Wales and England who have the desire for change and have come together in the hope that, as a community, we can bring it for those who need access to social welfare law advice in the north of Wales (it has definitely done that in Ealing).
Lady Hale called on everyone at the LCALC launch to do what they could to protect and preserve the rule of law, of which access to justice is an important part. I repeat that call. No matter which party wins, access to justice is too important to leave it to the politicians.