Michael Gove has called on lawyers to devote more of their time to pro bono work, suggesting this would help to fill the gap in government cutbacks in legal aid.
In his first speech since being appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Gove stated: “When it comes to investing in access to justice, then it is clear to me that it is fairer to ask our most successful legal professionals to contribute a little more rather than taking more in tax from someone on the minimum wage.” He added that he had no plans to cut legal aid further but warned that there would be more court closures.
In response, Mark Mansell, a partner at Allen & Overy who leads the firm’s pro bono initiatives, said: “We have witnessed first-hand the impact of a reduction in legal aid support through one strand of our programme in particular, which is focused on London’s free legal advice centres.”
Elsewhere, Linklaters said its lawyers already dedicated more than 25,500 hours to pro bono matters globally and “40% of these were spent on access to justice initiatives”.
In a letter to the Times, Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and Jon Black, chairman of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, agree with Mr Gove’s assessment of the system’s failings but maintain that legal aid cuts must be reversed in order to ensure advice is available to those who need it most.
Elsewhere, the new Justice Secretary’s plans are broadly welcomed, with leaders in the Guardian, the Telegraph and the FT all suggesting that Mr Gove’s reforming instincts are badly needed in the criminal justice system.