Law Society comments on justice wealth ‘gap’

New research shows 42% of people on low incomes had no legal assistance or representation in court compared to only 19% on higher incomes. Alarmingly, eight out of 10 believe that people with less money get a worse outcome in the civil justice system.

The Law Society published the interim report of the 21st Century Justice Project that details plans to narrow the justice gap for small businesses and individuals on low incomes who are unable to afford a solicitor or are not eligible for legal aid:

These plans in seven key areas of civil law include: A call for a publicly funded online information and guidance tool to help identify the legal issue and direct users to appropriate dispute resolution.

Exploring how international models of delivering civil legal aid could work in England and Wales and how healthcare professionals can refer people with a legal need. Convene a cross-industry working group to make insurance that covers legal expenses work better for existing policy holders. Provide support and guidance to members offering unbundled or fixed-fee legal services and explore ways to reduce risk and expand insurance cover for AI-generated legal services. Promote reform of the ombudsman sector as a key part of dispute resolution, which should sit within the Ministry of Justice. Improve support for small businesses to resolve disputes by strengthening the role of the Small Business Commissioner and work with stakeholders to explore ways to protect consumers from the risks of using AI-generated legal services.

According to the recent Legal Needs Survey, more than half (54%) looked online for information to manage their legal issue, up 4% since 2019. Yet, overall, one in two think that they will not be using AI technology because they lack trust in it (51%) or because there is no human oversight (49%)*.

President of the Law Society of England and Wales, Nick Emmerson said:  

“Everyone deserves a fair, timely solution to their legal problems and we know small businesses and people on low incomes can struggle to get the support they need. Access to justice is a fundamental right that should not be contingent on a person’s background or financial means. Our 21st Century Justice Project is leading the charge, identifying actionable simple ways to future-proof our justice system.

“Civil justice is not only vital for upholding the rule of law but also for maintaining a robust economy and ensuring a just society. With an impending general election, it is imperative for the new government to consider how to narrow the justice gap and create a fairer, more accessible system for all.”

Richard Atkinson, vice president of the Law Society and chair of the 21st Century Advisory Group commented:

“Since we launched the Green Paper of our 21st Century Justice Project last year, we have worked hard to consider the feedback we received through our consultation and undertake additional research and engagement.

“This interim report represents a new iteration of our proposals and the work we plan to do alongside others to realise our vision of a 21st century justice system. I am looking forward to working with our members, stakeholders and our Advisory Group to drive the project forward and help our members adapt and evolve to changing trends.”

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