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Supreme Court president warns cuts causing problems for justice system

Baroness Hale says lack of access to legal services in family courts is a ‘serious difficulty’.

The President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale of Richmond (Jane Barlow/PA)
The President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale of Richmond (Jane Barlow/PA)

By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

The outgoing president of the Supreme Court has warned that spending cuts are causing “serious difficulty” for the justice system.

Baroness Hale of Richmond – who retires next month – said the problems are particularly apparent in the family courts where a lack of access to legal services has the greatest impact on ordinary people’s lives.

With more resources, she said many disputes could be resolved at an early stage without the need for them to go to court.

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 Baroness Hale

“I don’t think that anybody who has anything to do with the justice system of England and Wales could fail to be concerned about the problems which the reduction in resources in several directions has caused for the system as a whole,” she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“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.

“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.

“Most people need legal services at the beginning of a difficulty, and if they have them then it will be sorted out and they won’t have to go anywhere near a court or they won’t have their house repossessed or whatever, because somebody has managed to find a solution to the problem at an earlier stage.

“It is that lack of initial advice and help which is a serious difficulty.”

We don't want to be politicised, we don't decide political questions, we decide legal questions Baroness Hale

Lady Hale warned against any attempt by minsters to “politicise” the judiciary following a series of controversial rulings by the Supreme Court.

The Government has refused to rule out changes to the way judges in the court are appointed after it announced plans in the Queen’s Speech for a “constitution, democracy and rights commission”.

The move was seen by some at Westminster as an attempt by Boris Johnson to exact revenge after the court ruled earlier this year that his suspension of Parliament had been unlawful.

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.”

PA

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