Lady Hale: Spending cuts are causing justice system 'serious difficulty'

27 December 2019, 13:37

Lady Hale has warned about spending cuts to the judicial system
Lady Hale has warned about spending cuts to the judicial system. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Outgoing President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, has warned that spending cuts are causing "serious difficulty" for the UK's justice system.

Baroness Hale of Richmond, who will retire next month, said that everyone "who has anything to do with the justice system of England and Wales" is concerned about the problems caused by a reduction in resources.

The British judge said the issues are a "particular problem in family law" where insufficient access to legal services has the biggest impact on normal people's lives.

"The lack of access to legal services for some people who seriously need them in the areas which most affect their ordinary, everyday lives - that is a problem," she said.

"It is a particular problem in family law - disputes between husband and wife, mother and father - where there may be an imbalance in resources because of the lack of access."

Lady Hale explained how most people require legal services "at the beginning of a difficulty" so that they will not need "to go anywhere near a court" later on.

Lady Hale said "ordinary" people needed access to legal services
Lady Hale said "ordinary" people needed access to legal services. Picture: PA

Finding an early solution was vital for "ordinary" people to find solutions to their legal problems, she said.

"It is that lack of initial advice and help which is a serious difficulty," she added.

The judge also warned against ministers and politicians attempting to "politicise" the judiciary in the wake of a number of controversial rulings by the Supreme Court.

In September, the court ruled Boris Johnson's attempt to prorogue Parliament was "unlawful."

The government has since refused to rule out changes to the process for appointing judges in court after announcing plans for a "constitution, democracy and rights commission" during the Queen's Speech.

Some in Westminster consider the move an act of revenge by Boris Johnson, following the ruling in autumn.

The Supreme Court ruled against Boris Johnson's prorogation in September
The Supreme Court ruled against Boris Johnson's prorogation in September. Picture: PA

The prime minister has previously hinted at US-style confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices, suggesting they should be subject to "some form of accountability".

Lady Hale said: "We have an independent, merit-based appointments system which most of us are extremely comfortable with.

"We don't want to be politicised, we don't decide political questions, we decide legal questions. In any event, Parliament always has the last word."

She added: "I hope very much that we never get to a situation where the politics of the judge - if he or she has any politics - come into whether or not they merit appointment as a judge at any level of the system.

"We do not have political appointments in this country and I think it would be a very great shame if we did.

"We are not politically motivated. I do not know the political opinions of my colleagues and they do not know mine, and long may it remain so."