"The UK Government’s decision to close law courts across Wales and restrict the availability of legal aid is threatening people’s fundamental social and human rights to access the justice system."
In his first major speech since being appointed as the Welsh Government’s law officer and chief legal adviser, the Counsel General said the consequences of the UK Government policy of austerity has resulted in UK Ministers placing a greater emphasis on cutting the cost of the administration of justice, rather than safeguarding and upholding the rights of people to access to the justice system – which is an imperative in the building of a fairer and more equal society.
Speaking at Cardiff University’s school of law, Mr Antoniw said:
“The legal system in Wales is at a crossroads; in post war Britain access to justice and the administration of justice has never been so limited and restricted. Now, to whole sections of the Welsh and UK population, the law is an imposition and not a vehicle for empowerment and emancipation.
“As the then President of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, highlighted in a speech in 2014, ‘the rule of law is rightly regarded as being the foundation of any democratic society. But the rule of law is meaningless if there is no access to justice. It is pointless to be granted rights if you have no way of enforcing them.’
“The abolition of legal aid for the majority of people in the areas of social welfare law, family law, housing and debt, is more than a mere restriction of access to justice. The changes we have experienced in the past few years represent an end to the ideological consensus between political parties across the UK reached in 1945 that access to justice is a fundamental social and human right and an imperative in the building of a fairer and more equal society.
“Another principle of access to the law is that courts and tribunals should be based in local communities with judges, magistrates and tribunal chairs who know and understand the community. The recently announced closure of another ten court buildings in Wales is another nail in the coffin of this principle. The closures are more to do with cost cutting than efficiency in the administration of justice.”