Justice in Jeopardy: The Alarming Erosion of the Rule of Law

Craig MacKenzie
Craig MacKenzie

Published: September 28th, 2023

6 min

Cross-party legal reform charity, JUSTICE has recently published a landmark report describing how the rule of law in the UK has "regressed significantly on multiple fronts" and threatens the very democratic fabric of our nation.

The rule of law is a set of principles, fundamental to our constitution, that seeks to ensure that everyone, including the State itself, is bound by, and entitled to the benefit of, publicly made laws administered in the courts.

It is vital, both for the public at large, who expect the State to behave in a responsible manner and for the marginalised, to ensure due respect for their rights too.

The report titled "The State We're in: Addressing Threats & Challenges to the Rule of Law" is a substantial evidenced-based body of work which looks at the importance of the Rule of Law as a legal concept fundamental to the proper functioning of our society, and at the various ways it has been eroded in recent years, both now and prior to the pandemic.

The rule of law is not an idealistic or abstract concept without any real consequences for the general public. It is the notion that all are equal before the law - both individuals and the State.

However, the stark conclusion of the report is that this, and any future Government, must wake up to the country's worrying trajectory we are on and start to reinstate the UK's longstanding adherence to the Rule of Law, ensuring it is understood, respected and maintained if we want to preserve our reputation as a shining light for democracy around the world.

The report authors cite the current State of legal aid availability as one area of concern, commenting:

"Cuts to legal aid have decimated universal access to justice and victims, witnesses, small businesses are left waiting months if not years for a trial.

This has been compounded by the ongoing courts backlog crisis, where, as of March 2023, over 340,000 cases are outstanding in the Magistrates' courts and over 62,000 in the Crown Court. Annual public expenditure on legal aid dropped by a quarter between 2009 and March 2022, resulting in 'legal aid deserts', with no access to legal advice at all."

In addition, there are calls to end attacks on lawyers:

"The Government must cease to use inflammatory language that disparages the legal profession. Both lawyers and the judiciary play a crucial role in supporting the rule of law and facilitating access to justice.

Hostile comments, such as referring to an "unelected judiciary" or claiming lawyers are "abetting the work of criminal gangs" undermines the public's perception of the judiciary's independence, as well as the motives of lawyers."

Seemingly rejecting the criticism, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:

"Everyone is entitled to representation whatever their case or their cause. We have always been clear that no lawyer should suffer harassment or abuse for doing their job."

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