Lord Falconer – 2016 Speech on the Loyal Address

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Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer in the House of Lords on 24 May 2016.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, for his exposition of what was in the gracious Speech. He is a fine advocate on a sticky wicket. Looking at his profile on the Ministry of Justice’s website, I noticed that he used to work for the literary agents Curtis Brown. I am glad to say that my very good friend Ed Balls has chosen Curtis Brown as the agents to promote his new book, Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics—available in all good bookshops from 16 September. I would be happy to arrange for the noble Lord a signed copy and the opportunity to learn whatever lessons are going. In exchange, I wonder whether he could get me a copy of another book currently being promoted by Curtis Brown—The Churchill Factor, by Boris Johnson.

Moving on from works of fantasy, I turn to the gracious Speech. It seems a long time ago that it was delivered. Hardly was the ink dry on the vellum than the Government were willing to regret the contents of their own gracious Speech by agreeing the TTIP amendment. Historically, as noble Lords will know, the last time that a gracious Speech was amended was in 1924 and the then Tory Government, led by Baldwin, fell.

That doomed gracious Speech has echoes of the speech that we debate today and included the following line:

“You will be asked to develop the … system of dealing with offenders”.—[Official Report, 15/1/1924; col. 8.]

The gracious Speech had a more direct tone in those days. That gracious Speech lasted just six days before being defeated on 21 January 1924. Three weeks later, Ramsay MacDonald, having deposed JR Clynes as the party leader after the general election, then became Prime Minister. I hope that this does not give political plotters on either side any ideas.

I know that noble Lords in this House are sure that the Conservatives are currently entirely focused on the national interest and not on badmouthing each other. One should completely discount the Minister, quoted in today’s Sun, who said:

“How the f*** are they going to put the party back together after all this?”,

or the reports in today’s Daily Mail of a senior Back-Bencher who said:

“People want a date when they know that he”—

I believe that to be a reference to the Prime Minister—

“will be gone. There is real anger”.

I am sure that the Daily Mail has got it completely wrong this morning with its headline: “Knives out for Cameron”. It may well be that we are the only part of the political system that is taking the trouble to analyse this gracious Speech in any detail. I very much look forward to the winding-up speech from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley. I note from his website that he was the assistant political secretary to Mr John Major from 1994 to 1997, so he is a bit of an expert on blue-tinged civil war. He will know that his then boss between 1994 and 1997, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, the former Leader of this House, chose to leave the country in anticipation of what is happening.

My final point in introduction is that it is so encouraging that the current Lord Chancellor, Mr Michael Gove, has remained above the fray. Take, for example, his claims that the European Court of Justice is undermining the security of the United Kingdom. Those were described by the former Conservative Attorney-General, Mr Dominic Grieve—who turns 60 today, so we wish him a happy birthday—as “unfounded and untenable”, “simply wrong”, and that the Lord Chancellor was,

“labouring under a very serious misunderstanding”,

of the way the European Union worked. Or take the Lord Chancellor’s claim that up to 5 million new immigrants would arrive in the European Union from Turkey and four other alleged new joiners by 2030. This was based upon the proposition that Turkey would have joined the European Union by 2020—a view to which nobody, apart from the Lord Chancellor and other committed Brexiteers, appears to subscribe.

I turn to the gracious Speech.

Noble Lords

Oh!

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

I knew that noble Lords would be pleased.

First, there was the reference to a British Bill of Rights, which has now featured in the gracious Speech for two years in a row, and in almost identical terms. The Human Rights Act 1998 has effected a fundamental change in the relationship between the overmighty state and its citizens. The effect of the incorporation of the convention into our domestic law has been to force Governments and state organisations to think about the citizen in a different way. Examples of this are legion. The second Hillsborough inquests would not have taken place without the Human Rights Act; the Government’s attempts to introduce oppressive security laws after 9/11 were struck down in the Belmarsh cases because of the Human Rights Act; and the decision of a local authority that tried to separate a couple who had been married for 60 years into separate care homes was struck down as contrary to their basic human rights.

There can be no going back on the rebalancing of the relationship between citizen and state. The Tories have run a campaign against the Human Rights Act since it was introduced. They have found powerful allies in elements of the media who are happy for there to be human rights—but only for those people they like. If as a nation we are serious about human rights, there must be human rights for all, not just for those that the Executive wish to bestow them on or for those of whom the Daily Mail approves.

The Tories came out of the general election in 2015 suggesting that they could leave the European Convention on Human Rights if that is what it took to reform the Human Rights Act. The Prime Minister appears to have retreated from that position, as evidenced by the briefing around this gracious Speech. Not so the Home Secretary, who gave a speech very recently saying that we should withdraw from the convention for the express purpose of reducing some people’s human rights.

As for the Lord Chancellor, who knows? The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, was careful to give no insight into his thinking. The Lord Chancellor’s evidence to the European Union Justice Sub-Committee of this House led it to say:

“The proposals the Secretary of State outlined did not appear to depart significantly from the Human Rights Act—we note in particular that all the rights contained within the ECHR are likely to be affirmed in any British Bill of Rights. His evidence left us unsure why a British Bill of Rights was really necessary”.

So I invite the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley, to give this House some clue—not in detail and not breaking any confidences—about what is proposed.

It is a very strange concept: a British Bill of Rights that would be likely to be refused legislative consent by the Scottish Parliament, to be opposed by the Welsh Assembly and would frustrate and complicate the Good Friday agreement. It may be that those rights would remain unchanged; I do not know and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has not told us. It may be that the Government will say that the United Kingdom courts should be supreme in determining what the convention means in UK law. Of course, that is what the Human Rights Act already says. It may be that the so-called British Bill of Rights will declare the supremacy of the UK Parliament—but of course that is already the position under the Human Rights Act, as the prisoner voting rights issue demonstrates.

We so damage ourselves as a country by the inability of our Government to accept human rights in a constitutional settlement that works. It goes without saying that the Lord Chancellor should be the champion of human rights within the Government. A commitment to the rule of law carries with it a commitment to defend people’s basic rights. It is a fundamental weakness in the Government that the champion of the law will not be straight in his defence of its most basic rights. My plea is that the Lord Chancellor and the Government make it clear that they accept that the rights that Winston Churchill insisted be agreed by Europe after the Second World War are now beyond argument both in their terms and in the fact that they will be enforced by our courts in this country. We on this side of the House stand by the Human Rights Act 1998 and we implore the Government to do the same.

The prison and courts reform Bill contains many measures that we welcome. We welcome proposals to give prison governors more autonomy and to increase the focus on rehabilitation and prisoner education. I congratulate Dame Sally Coates for the impressive work she has done as part of her review into prisoner education and I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s commitment last week to review the plight of prisoners serving IPP sentences. But the prison reforms, billed as the centrepiece of the gracious Speech, have no prospect of success unless the fundamental crisis in the prison system is addressed.

First, there is chronic understaffing in our prisons. Secondly, there is chronic overcrowding. Thirdly, there is a chronic rise in violence and self-harm, with 7,000 fewer officers and a prison population which has risen by nearly 3,000 since 2010. There have been six murders and 100 suicides in prisons across England and Wales in the past 12 months—the highest levels seen for at least 25 years. Assaults on staff are up by 36% from the previous year, and overcrowding in prisons is forcing inmates to double or even treble up in cells. I worry, as do many informed observers, that we are on a road which led 30 years ago to the Strangeways riots. I look forward to the speech later of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who issued a seminal report after those riots.

The Prime Minister lost his nerve the last time a Justice Secretary tried to reform our prisons and we ended up with Chris Grayling as a result. Until we tackle those issues and see a reduction in the prison population, these reforms are tinkering while Rome burns. I welcome the announcement today of an extra £10 million to spend on safety in prisons. The extra £10 million is to be made available,

“to prison governors for extra prison staff; more training, including on suicide awareness; additional equipment, including body cameras and CCTV; and on additional drug testing, including for legal highs”.

The announcement was no doubt timed to coincide with today’s debates in your Lordships’ House and the other place on prison reform. In the face of the scale of the prison crisis, the £10 million looks risibly small.

If the Lord Chancellor is serious about prison reform, the first step he must take is to reduce the prison population—dealing with IPP prisoners as a matter of urgency. He can take two further steps: first, reduce the number of prisoners who are remanded in custody and then do not get custodial sentences; and, secondly, reduce the length of sentences for non-violent and non-sexual offenders. Not taking these steps makes me worried that prison reform—the centrepiece of the gracious Speech—is not serious but rather an eye-catching initiative designed to distract attention from the troubles of this Government.

The Lord Chancellor speaks of his personal commitment to the issue of prison reform. He gave a detailed interview to the House magazine on 13 May of this year, which stretched over five pages—I have to say that one page was a very large photograph of the Lord Chancellor—but he did not mention the question of prison reform once.

I turn now to court reform, and welcome the commitment to it. We should not underestimate the crisis in our courts. Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, wrote in January this year:

“Our system of justice has become unaffordable to most”.

He is right. What is more, this Government and the coalition Government before them presided over the decimation of our justice system. In 2009-10 more than 470,000 people received advice or assistance on social welfare issues. By 2013-14, the year after the Government’s reforms to legal aid came into force, that number had fallen to fewer than 53,000—a drop of nearly 90%.

The Briggs report on the civil justice system puts it as follows:

“The single, most pervasive and intractable weakness of our civil courts is that they simply do not provide reasonable access to justice for any but the most wealthy individuals, for that tiny minority still in receipt of Legal Aid … In short, most ordinary people and small businesses struggle to benefit from the strengths of our civil justice system … The civil courts are, by their procedure, their culture and the complexity of the law … places designed by lawyers for use by lawyers”.

This is the crisis with which we need to deal. Access to justice depends on a level playing field. The cost of going to court needs to be reduced and the availability of legal aid needs to be increased. It must be wrong that abandoned spouses, whatever their means, cannot get legal aid to sort out their financial position or continued relationships with children unless they can meet stringent tests to prove that they are victims of domestic violence. The whole issue of legal aid needs to be properly reviewed. That is why my noble friend Lord Bach and his legal aid commission are asking hard questions about how to address these problems, including how technological change can be seen as a benefit to be grasped rather than something to be afraid of.

I am surprised by the reappearance of an extremism Bill in the gracious Speech. The key issue there will be the definition of extremism. The Government must be very careful. We welcome the criminal finances Bill—better late than never. The Wales Bill is important. We need carefully to scrutinise the detail to determine whether it does propose the long-lasting settlement that we all want to see. Labour, as the party which established the Welsh Assembly, welcomes the devolution of further powers. That is why we opposed the disastrous draft Bill that was before us last year. The First Minister—I am glad to see him back in that role—was right to say that that process had been, “an avoidable mess” and that the Government,

“need to get into the habit of treating Wales and the National Assembly for Wales with proper respect”.

The Strathclyde proposals have all the hallmarks of the Government’s approach to human rights: “We say we like them but if they cause any difficulty we then try to take them away”.

This is a gracious Speech overwhelmed by the sound of blue-on-blue gunfire, with the Lord Chancellor right in the thick of it. At a time when our prisons and our courts are in crisis and there is real suffering as a result, he is on a front line fighting a different war. I will give him, as will all on this side, full support for genuine and properly thought through proposals to reform our prisons and our courts. My goodness, we really need such proposals. Unfortunately, the proposals in the gracious Speech do not meet the hurdles either of genuineness or of being properly thought through. We do not know whether the Lord Chancellor will ever return from his current war—but if he does, I urge him to lay off human rights and devote his very considerable energies to the progressive reform that is so desperately needed.

Lord Falconer – 2015 Speech to Labour Party Conference

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Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer, the Shadow Lord Chancellor, at the party’s conference in September 2015.

Conference, it’s a huge privilege to be speaking to you today as the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice.

I’m proud to have with me a fantastic team – Andy Slaughter, Jenny Chapman, Wayne David, Karl Turner, Willy Bach, Jeremy Beecham and Christina Rees.

We’re all determined to fight the Tories every step of the way.

Conference, it’s been nine years since I last addressed Conference.

Back then, Jeremy was making speeches from the backbenches, David Cameron promised in his Tory Conference speech to repeal the Human Rights Act and I weighed in at 16 stone 6.

Not a lot has changed from David Cameron.

But Jeremy is now leader of the Labour Party.

And I’ve lost five stone.

It’s the Labour party that’s making progress there.

Conference, Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for appointing me to the Shadow Cabinet.

People say that we’re too alike.

We’re both thin men, in our 60s, from Islington.

Actually – and I know many of you will be surprised by this – there are a few matter on which we disagree.

But we share so much more.

We share the view that politics should change.

Conference, this summer, our party has had a transfusion of ideas, energy and drive.

A transfusion that makes us stronger.

We must harness that power to fight for the things Labour stands for.

Every one of us has to make the case for what we believe and do all that we can to persuade the public to elect a Labour Government, Labour councillors, Labours mayors, Labour AMs, Labour MSPs and Labour MEPs.

Conference, all of us want to see a justice system, which protects the poor and the vulnerable.

We don’t need a debate on that.

So many of us know that the justice system is breaking and it’s the poor and the vulnerable who suffer.

Prisons in crisis with surging violence and overcrowding.

Prison staff, who do a great job in hugely difficult circumstances, left to cope on their own with rising assaults and reduced numbers.

People denied access to advice or legal representation in court, with thousands forced to represent themselves and local justice undermined.

Victims, championed by Labour in Government and Opposition, ignored by the Tories.

But Conference, there is worse to come.

This week, it’s 15 years since the Human Rights Act came into force.

The Tories call it “Labour’s Human Rights Act”.

They think that’s an insult.

It’s not.

I am so proud that it was a Labour Government that passed the Human Rights Act.

It’s protected the powerless – victims of crime, people in care – and, yes, sometimes also the unpopular – against the might of the strong  and the dictates of the State.

Take the case of Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement.

She was a member of the military police, who said she had been raped.

She was bullied for making these allegations.

She killed herself.

There was an inquest. It barely scratched the surface.

Her sisters were denied the truth.

They went to court, seeking a proper investigation.

They won. Only because of the Human Rights Act.

The Tories’ proposals would deprive Anne-Marie’s sisters of this right.

Well Conference, I say to the Tories: we won’t let these rights be taken away.

We’ll block attempts to repeal the Human Rights Act and we won’t let them walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights.

We stand by our human rights, no ifs, no buts.

But Conference, it’s not just those rights we need to fight for.

It’s people’s most basic rights.

Law centres closing all over the country.

Tribunal fees introduced and court fees increased.

Legal aid cut to the bone.

In the year we left office, over 470,000 cases received advice or assistance for social welfare issues.

The year after the Tory legal aid Act came into force, that number fell to less than 53,000.

Hundreds of thousands of people left without help.

Victims of domestic abuse trapped with their abuser because the alternative is to face them in court.

Small businesses facing bankruptcy because court fees mean they can’t chase unpaid debts.

Children separated from their parents denied help and left vulnerable to exploitation and homelessness.

The refugee crisis has led to many children being separated from their parents ending up in the UK alone.

Tory reforms make it much harder for these children to get legal aid.

Who says the Tory party isn’t still the nasty party?

Conference, this assault on legal aid is hurting people across the country.

Like a father fighting to keep contact with his children after their mother took them away but who can’t complete the court forms on his own because he can’t read or write.

Like a woman employed on a zero-hours contract and who had her working hours cut because she took time off for a pregnancy-related illness but who couldn’t afford the £1,200 fees to take her employer to court.

I’ve been to quite a few conferences in my time.

Usually, justice issues aren’t at the top of people’s list of concerns– it’s the NHS or schools.

But Conference this year so many people have come up to me and shared their stories – of friends, family members or colleagues being denied justice.

Justice shouldn’t depend on where you’re from or how much you earn.

But in Britain, in the 21st century, under this Tory Government, it does.

We all accept that the State should provide decent standards of health care or education.

The same should be true of access to justice.

If you have a right to fair treatment at work or not to be discriminated against, you should be able to go to court to enforce that right.

You should be protected from a bullying partner.

You should be helped when it’s children’s interests that are at stake.

So I’m delighted that we’ve appointed Willy Bach to immediately review legal aid.

And over the next few months, Willy will talk to lawyers, trade unions and people up and down the country who’ve been affected by these cuts to look at how we restore minimum standards to legal help and advice, in an economically responsible way.

We’ll build a justice system worthy of our country again.

Conference, Michael Gove and David Cameron don’t care.

But I know that you and millions of people across this country do.

I urge you to share your stories, campaign in your communities and use this energy to fight for justice.

We will fight for the Human Rights Act.

We will fight against unfair court and tribunal fees.

And we’ll fight for proper legal aid.

But most of all Conference, we will fight this unjust, nasty Tory Government.

Lord Falconer – 2007 Speech on Judicial Diversity

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Below is the text of the speech made by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, on 1st February 2007 at the offices of Wragge & Co in Birmingham.

Diversity and quality go together. The wider the pool from which lawyers emerge and judges are selected the higher the quality of the legal profession and the bench. We need to increase diversity in our profession and on the bench to maintain our strength. Because it is fair, and because it increases confidence in our justice system.

Bold statements. But unless bold statements are backed with decisive action on diversity we will not make genuine progress.

I’d like to do three things this afternoon; firstly, demonstrate why I believe improving the diversity of the judiciary is vital for delivering effective justice; secondly, illustrate that action on diversity is required across the legal profession, from attracting a broader group into the law, to promoting and developing opportunities for existing lawyers and judges currently in the system, and that this action needs to go further and faster than it is currently; and thirdly and finally, to look at some of the barriers to judicial office and some of the specific measures my department will be taking to ensure the high quality of our judiciary is maintained.

I believe that we are at an important point in the history and the development of our justice system. Increasing the ethnic and gender diversity of the legal profession and the judiciary is an enormously important step in the wider reform of our justice system. We need to continue to attract talent, in individuals of the highest calibre in terms of intellect, and probity.

I find it exasperating when I hear people express fears that increasing the pool from which our judges are drawn will somehow dilute its quality. As if the only people capable of holding judicial office are drawn from a narrow pre-existing group. That we have still too few women judges, or those from different backgrounds is a measure of how much we still have to do. A system that only selects judges from certain backgrounds misses out on a whole pool of people who have the necessary talent and skills in abundance. There should only be one common denominator when it comes to appointing people to judicial office – merit.

The importance of a more diverse profession is enormous. Lawyers serve communities whether that community is the City of London or the homeless of Leeds, or the small businesses of Bradford and Birmingham. They need to reflect those communities. Just as the legal profession does – so must the judiciary. Yet personal qualities of intellect, professionalism and probity are not enough. In a modern reflective system of justice, judges have a characteristic of equal importance – and that is understanding. Understanding of communities, of the people and the problems. Understanding, that in part, will come through more people from different ethnic groups, more people from wider social backgrounds, and more women entering the judiciary.

Courts have to be demonstrably independent and of the highest quality. But they also need to be able to demonstrate that they understand, in a profound way, the problems with which they are dealing. The Commercial Court in London is successful because the commercial community are impressed by the extent to which it understands the issues with which it deals. The Justice Centre in Liverpool succeeds for precisely the same reason.

The delivery of effective justice depends on a diverse judiciary. Increased diversity will lead to greater judicial understanding of the issues that communities face, day-in-day-out. The wider the diversity of the judiciary the wider the perspective from which decisions are made.

We should be enormously proud of our judiciary. It consistently displays the highest standards of probity and professionalism in dispensing justice. They are unquestionably of the highest quality and understanding. They are unmatched, I believe, in the world. But to retain that high standing the pool from which they are drawn must widen. Quality will only be maintained if we have diversity. Diversity based solely on merit.

There is an immense amount of talent out there that remains untapped, because of lack of awareness of the judiciary, or indeed simply the sense that ‘judges aren’t people like me’. We must overcome these barriers if we are to narrow the gap between those doing the judging and those being judged; this is not diversity for the sake of targets, or quotas or for diversity’s sake, it is indeed essential if we are to have a judiciary and a justice system of continued quality and one that inspires public confidence.

But the arguments for diversity need to move on. Our efforts should not be spent winning the case for diversity, but in making it a reality, by going further than we have gone to date. We need to recognise it is a long term issue. But we also need to identify areas where we can make progress in the shorter and medium term. We are making progress in terms of gender and ethnic diversity. Year on year the statistics are pointing in the right direction. In1999 only 24% of judicial appointments to courts and tribunals were women. By September 2005 this had increased to 46%. Positive trends; with the total number of female judges in courts rising from 14-18% in the last 5 years alone. More and more women are applying for and taking up judicial office, and I hope that increasing the profile of women in the judiciary, promoting more flexible working arrangements, and highlighting the new open, transparent selection procedure will encourage more women to consider a career on the bench.

A similar picture emerges with those from ethnic minority backgrounds with the percentage of appointments to courts and tribunals increasing from 5% to 17% in that same period. While the percentage of judges in courts from ethnic minority backgrounds has doubled since 2001 to nearly 4% by April last year.

While this is progress, it is not yet of the rate or amplitude that I would like to see. Public confidence in the justice system will grow when people start to see more women judges and more judges from ethnic minorities in the court room. In terms of ability, in terms of increasing public confidence, in terms of improving the connection with communities, in terms of making decision from a broader perspective – improving gender and ethnic diversity is a necessity.

Separate from judicial diversity, the legal profession also needs to attract men and women from a wider range of backgrounds to the law as a career. Initiatives such as Pathways to Law, a partnership between the College of Law and the Sutton Trust, to encourage young people from non-privileged backgrounds into the law should be commended. I am sure that this scheme and others like it will be wholeheartedly supported by the legal profession. Not only for the economic benefits of drawing a bigger and better pool into law as a career, but for the undoubted benefits that it will have, in time, on the makeup of our judiciary. The Sutton Trust believes that we need to take proactive steps to widen the basis of the profession. Holding career days, offering work placements, giving advice on applying to law courses, mentoring through school and university – all simple steps. But what the Pathways initiative shows, is that they work. As with women, as with minority ethnic individuals – unless we take steps to widen the educational funnel through which people become lawyers we are missing out on quality. We need to connect to people who are more than bright enough for a career in the law – we need to connect with them and to help them through the process.

The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 rightly transferred responsibility for judicial appointments from the person of the Lord Chancellor to an independent body. The JAC is entirely independent, and while my recent predecessors and I appointed judges scrupulously on merit, the introduction of an independent commission should encourage applications by bringing transparency to the selection process, and by allowing the hitherto closed process to become more open. The JAC has a statutory duty to encourage diversity in the pool of candidates. I know they are committed to making this real. That deeply held commitment needs to be demonstrated by all of us; from law firms to the Lord Chancellor. The creation of the JAC is an important milestone. Improvements to the application and selection processes are already being made to make the process more user friendly much less off-putting. The JAC running and promoting a transparent and manifestly independent application and selection process will encourage more people to apply. It is a significant step. And it represents an important opportunity to change the climate; to provide much needed momentum.

But the promotion of diversity needs to occur at every key point of the cycle. True, we need to attract a more diverse group into the law as a profession. But I do not accept that we need to wait to see the benefits of these longer term strategies before we start to see real, meaningful improvements in judicial diversity today.

I am delighted that Wragge and co has hosted this event today as a small measure of your commitment to promoting diversity in your own firm, the wider legal profession and now the Judiciary. I hope that many more firms will follow the active lead set by Wragge and co.

There are currently deserving barristers, there are currently deserving solicitors – who are simply not considering a career as a judge. There are immediate steps that we can and must take to attract qualified individuals to apply to the bench. Essential to improving quality in diversity is to gain an understanding of the genuine barriers, real or perceived that exist to judicial office.

Research into these barriers, conducted by my department, has thrown up some interesting results. Many interviewed cited nothing more substantial than a lack of awareness or knowledge of the types of post available, or of the application process or eligibility requirements. Others perceived the judiciary to be an isolated career choice, and feared giving up the more sociable aspects of their current career. Long hours and inflexible working patterns were a disincentive for some. What I found most encouraging about these findings was that there was no sense of a great cultural antipathy towards a career in the judiciary. Rather many concerns were either borne out of the lack of sufficient information to make an informed decision or were around work/life issues that we are committed to resolving.

The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcements Bill currently before Parliament includes clauses to extend eligibility for judicial office. Post qualification experience rather than rights of audience will be at the heart of the new eligibility criteria. By removing the emphasis on rights of audience I hope this will encourage more solicitors to apply for judicial office. In addition the changes will also allow for Legal Executives, Patent Agents and Trademark Attorneys, with the appropriate experience, to apply for certain judicial posts. This will widen the pool of potential applicants even further, and recognises that not only solicitors and barristers have the appropriate skills and experience to become judges of the highest calibre.

In September 2006 I announced my intention that former Judges should be able to return to practice as solicitors and barristers. I remain committed to this idea, not as has been suggested, because I want to encourage existing judicial office holders to leave the judiciary. This is about encouraging more applicants. There is evidence to suggest that prohibition on return to practice is a significant psychological barrier for many potential candidates. In particular solicitors and barristers can be deterred by the realisation that taking up a salaried judicial post would close off future career options.

Return to practice proposals, with the necessary safeguards, is about increasing the attractiveness of judicial appointment to a wider pool. It recognises that the job market has changed. Flexibility and choice have become hallmarks of our successful economy and employment market. While taking up judicial office is a very special position requiring commitment and dedication, I believe we have to move with the times and give Judges the option of having more flexibility in their career, as is the case with other professions. I remain unconvinced by the argument that permitting return to practice will lead to the risk of bias, real or perceived. The position of fee paid Judges- part time judges who continue to work as solicitors and barristers tends to show that this is not so.

For those who have participated in the scheme, salaried part time working enables a balance to be struck between one’s professional life, one’s family commitments and one’s other interests. The scheme has proved enormously attractive for many, with around 90 salaried part-time judges. We have had the first 9 salaried part time circuit judges, experienced judges who have embraced a new way of working, and by April this year they will have been joined by several others. Salaried part-time judges are also sitting on both District Judges benches, in the Appeal Service, the Employment Tribunal Service, the Lands Tribunal, and the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. A number of whom have gone on to sit full time. As well as attracting people to the bench as a career; we need to explore ways of keeping them there. And the introduction of more flexible working arrangements will be essential in maintaining the judiciary as an attractive and viable career choice.

And of course one of the reasons I am here at Wragge and co today, is to reiterate my commitment to finding ways of promoting judicial service in our courts and tribunals to solicitors. There is a profound sense of preaching to the converted this afternoon – I am delighted that so many of you are here and expressing an interest in judicial office. I wish you every success.

Solicitors are still under-represented in the judiciary – with a significant gap in numbers between those who are eligible and those who apply. Solicitors also tend to apply for the more junior posts. We need to understand what the barriers are – and we need to overcome them. Lack of awareness about requirements for judicial office isn’t good enough. I want to dispel the myth that the Bar is the only career route to judicial office. In conjunction with the Law Society we recently sent letters to every solicitor in the country who has recently become eligible for judicial service. And so far, we have signed up 7 major firms, including our hosts, to a 5 point action plan to promote diversity and judicial service. 7 large firms represents progress, but once again not at the pace or depth I wish to see.

I was particularly pleased to see Lawrence Collins, now Lord Justice Collins appointed to the Court of Appeal not long ago. As a solicitor, he demonstrates that professional background need not be a barrier to taking high judicial office. I am delighted that he is here today, and I urge you all to make the most of his not inconsiderable talent and experience. I hope that he will become an inspiration for many more solicitors in the future.

Judicial diversity is not tokenism and political correctness. It is not just a numbers game. I want to see a judiciary that has more understanding and engagement with the communities it serves. In no sense is this a slight on the thoroughly able, skilled and connected judiciary that currently provide such marvellous service to their communities. Rather it is a reflection on the future direction of the justice system. As we evolve as a society – so must our systems, structures and institutions adapt; the justice system and the judiciary are no different from any other public service in this regard.

I want to see the level of community engagement enhanced. I want to see more judges out and about in their local communities, speaking to local people, understanding local concerns, to be more responsive to their local environments.

The public are increasingly demanding more from their public services, increasingly expecting more from lawyers and judges. Community justice pilots in Liverpool and Salford represent a new way of doing justice. A way of making sure that the courts and the wider justice system are connected to the communities that they are there to support. It is a successful model that I want to see in practice right across England and Wales within the next two years. What the examples of Salford and Liverpool show, is that a visible, credible accessible judge is vital in strengthening links between the courts and the local community. Better connections leads to increased confidence in the work of the court – and what the pilots have demonstrated is that, in turn, greater confidence in the effective delivery of justice can empower communities to play an ever increasing role.

Judicial diversity isn’t a choice. Unless the profession widens the base from which it is drawn it will be missing out on quality. Unless the profession becomes more representative of the communities it serves there will be gaps in public confidence. Justice is rooted in confidence – confidence is rooted in diversity. When I see the statistics on diversity I do find it concerning – we still don’t have enough women, we still don’t have enough people from ethnic minority groups, or from less privileged backgrounds. But what gives me hope is that these issues are being raised now. What gives me encouragement is that many in the legal profession recognise that they have a responsibility to encourage people from a wider background to consider and pursue a career in the law. What gives me encouragement is that an independent JAC will encourage a more diverse pool of applicants from which to draw the judiciary. What gives me encouragement is that increasingly, through the roll out of community justice, judges will be making ever stronger links with their communities.

Now is the time we must press for change – not to fix something that is broken but to secure the continued high quality of the judiciary. The measure of success for any diversity strategy should not be statistics – it should be confident communities and effective justice. Thank you.

Lord Falconer – 2007 Speech on Human Rights

charliefalconer

Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer on 23rd March 2007 at Bangor University. The speech was made at the Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest Memorial Lecture.

Noswaith dda or good evening.

It is for me a real honour to be here to-night.

My week has been a north Wales week. I do not mean by that that I was topped for speeding.

On Wednesday I gave, in London, the Williams of Mostyn memorial lecture.

Gareth was, as you will all know, born in a taxi travelling between Prestatyn and Rhyl. Or that is what he told me. He never let on whether his mother was leaving the hospital in despair, or did not get there in time.

Gareth was a great lawyer, a great leader of the lords and an immensely brave and effective Attorney General.

Arriving here last night I passed the spot where he was born. How much we have lost by his all too early passing.

I have spent the day in North Wales. I started the building work at the new Carnarfon criminal justice centre. I opened the new witness suite at Llandudno magistrates court . I saw the work going on to increase the size of offices, in Mold combined court.

And I heard how so many more cases than before from Wales are now tried in Wales.

Justice is strong and growing here in Wales.

It is a real pleasure and an appropriate end to my visit to be invited to give the Lord Morris Memorial lecture here tonight in Bangor.

Lord Morris, rightly, is recognised as being one of the breed of Law Lords who fully encapsulated the qualities for which our judiciary are renowned. He was a judge of thirty years standing. He moved rapidly through the ranks and, as a Law Lord, presided over a significant number of cases which were not only influential in the development of our law then, but remain so now. I need only give one example; the Home Office v Dorset Yacht. A case that is familiar to all law students, young and indeed old. His judgment remains influential even today in defining the duty of care for public bodies and officials.

He was a great man, who served his country not only on the bench, but also in defence of its freedom during the First World War. That desire to serve and protect our nation’s liberty is a trait which was seen throughout his time on the Bench. He was, it has been written, ‘vigilant in protecting the freedom of the individual when threatened by the executive.’

And it is this trait which I think makes the topic of my lecture tonight entirely appropriate. And one, I believe that both Lord Morris and Lord Mostyn, would have welcomed.

What I want to speak about this evening is human rights. I believe that the Human Rights Act which this government put on to the statute book in 1998 is, and will be seen as, one of the great legal, social and constitutional reforms not just of this government but of all of the post-war governments in the United Kingdom. It will be, I believe, a ratchet reform: one which it will not be possible to turn back – an embedded element of our legal and constitutional framework.

But I accept that there have been at times problems with the way the legislation has been operationally interpreted, and arguments and controversy about what effect it has had on our law. That’s why I have been campaigning for it, arguing its merits in speeches and interventions in Parliament, up and down the country, and in visits I have made ranging from Australia to America. I want to continue that argument today.

So what I want to argue tonight is:

– that human rights and our human rights legislation is vitally important to this country now, and that the legislation is important not just for the few, but for the many

– that in looking and continuing to look at the effects and impact of the legislation on our laws and our practices, our conclusion, based on the evidence we have so far, is that the legislation has neither caused a crisis in our courts nor changed the nature of our law

– that, far from that effect, the legislation has in fact had a profound effect on policy and decision making throughout the State

– and that as a result, the Human Rights Act guarantees protection not just for minorities, but for everyone: that human rights are mainstream, not marginal

Firstly, then, the value of human rights. Human Rights are for everyone. They apply to everyone. They can be relied on by everyone. They are secured and guaranteed by the State, for all. Regardless of age, race, sex or religion they are a constant on which we can all rely. They both protect us from an overmighty state. They also require the state to provide proper protection for each one of us from crime, from having our privacy infringed, and for the protection of all of our human rights.

Human Rights are a necessary and vital part of our democracy, and they are for us all.

They have been guaranteed by the state, for each one of us, since the Human Rights Act came into force in 2000. It was a significant day for us as citizens and for us as a nation, as the clarion call to ‘Bring our rights home’ was answered. Our citizens now can enforce their Rights and claim their remedies in British courts in front of British judges, as a direct result of the Act obviating the need for the UK citizen to go to Strasbourg. It has meant rights can be vindicated much more quickly and much more easily.

As I shall explain later the knowledge that infringements can be enforced so much more quickly has had an effect much more profound than the effect on the comparatively small number of litigants who have been saved the air-fare to the European court of human rights in Strasbourg. For the policy makers awareness that maybe in a number of years, if the European Court of Human Rights can get through its backlog, and its complicated procedures it might determine that a provision or a decision offends the convention, is not a real or significant pressure in the making of decisions. The fact you might be breaking English law is a profound pressure on the way policy-makes frame legislation.

Secondly, the impact of human rights. Last year I commissioned a review of the Human Rights Act. To see, six years on, how it was working.

Prior to the introduction of the Act there had been many soothsayers who prophesied the Act would change our law unrecognisably, and for the worse. They said it would cause a constitutional crisis and grid-lock in the courts. They were wrong.

Firstly: there has been no constitutional crisis.

The Act has made clear that Parliamentary Sovereignty remains. The Act, I believe, purposefully and skilfully maximises the protection of human rights without trespassing on parliamentary sovereignty. Judges have shown considerable restraint in ensuring their role does not become politicised. And power rightly remains in Westminster, with the legislature and the executive.

Secondly: it has not led to gridlock in the courts.

Doomsday predictions of the courts facing gridlock, being swamped and overwhelmed by the constant taking of human rights points , and the legal system grinding to a halt, have as might be expected turned out to be hopelessly wrong. The system has worked well. The courts have not ground to a halt. The judges have been sensible robust and unintimadated by the change in the law.

They have strike the right balance, using the Act when appropriate, not being afraid to disregard it when it is not apposite or necessary. They have been robust, and they have been fair. Many cases which sought to suggest Human Rights arguments have rightly been dismissed as misconceived or irrelevant to the case. The judiciary I believe have used considerable wisdom to ensure that the Human Rights Act is and remains a much valued piece of legislation.

Thirdly: building on this the Act has allowed renewed dialogue with the European Court of Human Rights.

Not only have British citizens been able to enforce their rights in British courts in front of British judges, but British judges have been able to add to, and aid European human rights jurisprudence. One example will suffice. In Z v UK in 2001, the ECHR refused to follow one of its earlier judgements, Osman v UK, because of the discussion relating to Osman that the House of Lords had undertaken in Barratt v LB Enfield earlier that year. Through increased dialogue human rights jurisprudence has noticeably improved. It has also allowed the UK to be able to assert itself squarely into the debate internationally about Human Rights. Being able as we now are as a country to point to effective and comprehensive Human Rights legislation enhances our credibility as we seek to promote it internationally.

The impact of the HRA on the courts has been overwhelmingly positive because it has made a tangible a difference to individuals who have had their rights violated by the State. It has given them effective and speedy redress. It has given them meaningful protection. It is no good to speak of one’s commitment to HR if one does not give those whose rights are infringed, a remedy.

Yet there has been little impact on our law, because I believe many of these rights were already reflected within our law. A culture which the Act has sought to build on. Whilst our current rights have been supported and strengthened by its presence, the Act has in practice had very little discernible effect on existing law. It has been raised in a number of decisions right across a huge range of issues but it has not caused outcomes which are unexpected or which would not have been achieved under existing law. It has enhanced our law by providing remedies and clarity. But as the report found it has not caused the law books to be rewritten. The European Convention on Human Rights was written in large measure by English lawyers who underlined English principles.

Yet, as I indicated earlier, the Act has had a far greater, a far more profound effect on society outside of the court. The Act has not been just about what goes on in the courtroom, it has been about what goes on outside, in wider society.

Before turning to that reality, it is also true to say that the Act has provided the opportunity for the promotion of a number of myths – myths which, if we do not counter them properly, are damaging – damaging to the legislation, and so damaging to the protection the legislation offers our people. Part of my job is to counter those myths – and to take every opportunity to do so.

The day to day operation of the human rights act is something that rarely, if ever, is covered in the media. Given the nature of the coverage around human rights one would be forgiven for assuming that human rights are purely for minority groups, for defendants, for foreigners, for criminals, for chancers.

It is no surprise that in some parts of our community this view of human rights has taken hold. Just consider a selection of headlines of the past two years; “Traitor wins Human Rights Payout”, “Ordinary Britons deserve human rights too”, “human rights, social wrongs”, “Terrorists’ Charter”. Such headlines are as damaging as they are misconceived.

In this view human rights are other people’s rights – they are rights which I will never need, and therefore they are for other people, who always on this analysis misuse them.

There are a number of issues at play here.

Firstly, media coverage tends to be dominated by a number of myths and misunderstandings, and by grey areas where matters of principle are at stake as much as matters of the law. I do not intend to go into this point in great detail, as I have discussed these at length elsewhere, but I think it important to raise them by way of illustration. Three brief examples.

Take the infamous Kentucky Fried Chicken episode. It is widely believed and widely reported that a man in Gloucestershire, while evading capture by the police holed up on the roof of a house whereupon he demanded drink, cigarettes, and food – Kentucky Fried Chicken, apparently – from the police who were pursuing him.

A spokeswoman on behalf of the police is reported as saying, and I quote “although he’s a nuisance, we still have to look after his wellbeing and human rights”.

Two points here. Firstly, it is utter nonsense that his human rights entitled him to KFC on the roof. This was a purely operational matter for the police to decide, whether or not providing him with food would bring about a peaceful and swift resolution to the stand-off. Secondly, and significantly, the incident was reported as the man receiving food because of his human rights.

Second example, Dennis Neilsen. In 2001 it was widely reported Nielsen, a multiple murderer, was able to obtain hard-core pornography while in prison by citing the Human Rights Act. This is entirely untrue. He did apply for a judicial review of the Prison Governor’s decision to deny him access to hard-core porn – but that was refused at the permission stage, and again when he renewed the application. The Human Rights Act categorically did not lead to his being supplied porn. The second half of this story- perhaps unsurprisingly was not covered by the press.

The third example is more complex, and demonstrates a case which is in a grey area. In 2000, a group of nine Afghan nationals hijacked a plane and forced it to land at Stansted. They claimed that they were escaping a violent, oppressive regime which they feared would shortly assassinate them because of their political affiliations. They were charged in Britain with hijacking, and after a hung jury which could not agree on whether they had a defence of duress, they were convicted on a retrial. After they had spent years in jail throughout this process their conviction was quashed when the Court of Appeal held the judge had misdirected the jury by failing to leave the issue of duress to them and then because the judge considered a fear of political assassination in the future was insufficiently targeted to constitute the defence of duress. They were released. They sought asylum. They were refused because of the hijacking. But the tribunal which considered their case held that they were at risk of political assassination by the Taliban even though the Taliban were no longer the government, if they were returned to Afghanistan. The consequence was as a result of the Chahal case in the European Court of Human Rights they could not be deported. The Government accepted that they could not deport. They refused to give the hijackers exceptional leave to remain, which would have been the norm. Instead they sought to create a new category of “permission to stay”. The difference between leave to remain and permission to stay was that the hijackers could not work in this country. The court held that the state could not invent a new category without primary legislation.

This case caused an uproar – with the media invective directed at the Human Rights Act which they interpreted as a licence for hijackers and terrorists. Why should they be allowed to stay? Why should they be free to potentially pose a threat to the public? Why are they being rewarded for a very serious crime? What will stop others like them? Why should their human rights outweigh mine? All legitimate questions. But none of them have simplistic answers.

Speaking for myself, I believe the question is, do we want to be living in a society where we send people back to certain torture or death when they do not pose a threat in this community? I do not believe that we do. Human rights are the values we live by – and we must be true to them as a society. We must practice what we preach – even when that means taking difficult decisions, unpopular decisions, decisions on the margins.

What these three illustrations show is the nature of the human rights stories that tend to get in the papers – either myths, like the KFC example where human rights never even come into it, or partial reporting, when the outcome is conveniently forgotten, or the grey areas, the issues on the margins – like the Afghan hijackers.

A common denominator though is that whenever human rights hit the headlines they seem to be concerning minority. Regardless of the accuracy or otherwise of the reporting we rarely see human rights in any other light.

We don’t hear about human rights operating for the benefit of the mainstream of society, or indeed operating in the mainstream of society; we only hear about it at the margins; when it is misapplied, when the State is challenged in the courts, or in the grey areas where decisions are seen as going against the grain of popular opinion.

But the reality of human rights, and the Human Rights Act is that it protects each of us every day without attracting comment, notice or attention. The Human Rights Act impacts on all our lives in many unseen ways.

The third principal point I want to argue tonight is the effect of the legislation on policy – on areas where decisions about our protections, about our freedoms, about ensuring our dignity are made every day.

It is perhaps shown at its clearest by the example of the elderly couple who despite being married for over 30 years, were separated and moved to different care homes because it was considered too expensive to let them live together. But it was the Human Rights Act that ensured they were brought back together, and cared for in the same home. Without recourse to the Act they would have had no way of getting the local authority to act. But because of the Act they were able to enforce their rights.

The local authority failed in its duty to consider the human rights of that elderly couple when it made its decision. The Act put upon them a duty to ensure the couple’s rights were upheld. In every decision, whether operational or policy. And the Act has ensured that decisions like that one shouldn’t happen again. It forces local authorities and public bureaucracies to focus on the interests of the people they serve.

Local authorities up and down the country makes hundreds of decision every day which affect everybodys’ rights. Not just about the elderly, the vulnerable, the marginalised. But about everybody. They make decisions that impact on our dignity, that ensure we are treated equally and fairly. That ensure that our floor of rights, minimum standards as defined by the Human Rights Act are taken into consideration.

Making decisions, developing policy and delivering legislation can have a huge effect on our day to day lives. The Act recognises that, and that is where the Acts huge benefit for us all can be seen. It is in the day to day that the Act has its greatest effect for all of us.

The Act creates a number of positive obligations, which are responsible for this profoundly welcome effect.

1- Firstly, the Government is required to make a statement of compatibility with the Human Rights Act about all legislation going through Parliament

2- Secondly, the Act places an obligation on all public bodies to not breach the Act in developing policy

3- Thirdly, Human Rights obligations should be met in all decisions made by public bodies.

Legislation and s19

Turning firstly to legislation and declarations of compatibility. Since the Human Rights Act came into force in 2000 all Bills and subordinate legislation coming before Parliament must be “human rights proofed”. There are now statutory requirements under Section 19 of the Act for a Minister to make a statement to the effect that either; “the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention rights” or that although the Minister “is unable to make a statement of compatibility the Government wishes the House to proceed with the Bill”.

This is an important step. It means that human rights considerations are at the heart now of how laws are made. They are not an afterthought, nor an add on. Human rights proofing is not simply an exercise to be carried out after the legislation has been passed. Questions of proportionality and the identification of issues and options that produce the least interference with human rights are now embedded in the very process of law making.

Since 2000 therefore, human rights have become an integral and statutory consideration of all legislation. Every law passed since then will have been human rights proofed. The effect of this measure has been to force policy makers to consider human rights in the development of that policy.

The Human Rights Act leads to better laws, by ensuring that the needs of all members of the United Kingdom’s increasingly diverse population are appropriately considered.

Policy making

This has had a very beneficial affect on policy making. The immediacy of the Human Rights Act, enforceable in British courts, before British judges, not requiring time consuming and expensive recourse to Strasbourg – has had a positive impact on public authorities. That the Act makes it unlawful for a public authority to behave in a way incompatible with human rights has placed an onus on them to think more broadly about the impact of their policies.

Policy making has also responded to case law which has contained human rights principles. Where existing policies are found to be in breach of Human Right principles in the courts, mechanisms exist by which government can respond and amend policy so that breaches do not continue to occur. This brings benefits not only for the citizen, in the fact that unlawful violations of their rights are stopped. But also for the government because policies that are infringing on citizens rights can be quickly rectified. Ensuring proper protection for society is provided, and minimising the amount of resources being swallowed by being taken to court for breaches.

Decision making

Perhaps the greatest impact, as I suggested briefly above, has been the impact of the Act on the decision making process of public bodies. The positive onus to consider rights before acting is a significant one. It prompts the decision maker to think first, to consider what the effect of the decision might be. On individuals and on society. Just as in the case of the elderly couple who were initially separated. Or the case of the elderly patient who was left on the toilet for long periods of time because staff were too busy to move her or the members of an old peoples home who were fed breakfast whilst they were sitting on a commode. The Human Rights Act should force such decisions to never be countenanced. By promoting dignity, and increasing awareness of fundamental human rights the Act encourages decision makers to protect rights. It promotes protection through pre-emption. Not as an after thought to be enforced later in the courts, or when the damage has been done, but right from the off.

Protection through prevention. Protection that has far greater meaning.

The HRA defines a floor of rights which inform the decision maker. Setting out minimum standards of treatment, of care, of action by which we all expect to be treated. Through more human rights friendly legislation and policy – government and public authorities are daily acting to the benefit of wider society – in the interest of all our rights. Rarely is this seen, rarely is this acknowledged – but it is there providing protection to each and every one of us.

The positive obligations of the Human Rights Act has brought benefits for all of us. Legislation and policies take account of our rights from the very beginning of any thought processes. Ensuring they are compatible, trying to improve protection rather than erode it. And responding quickly to challenges to existing practice and legislation, ensuring violations do not continue to occur. Importantly the positive obligation also enshrines the duty of protection in operational decision making. Promoting consideration of the rights of the individuals and of society before decisions are taken provides far more meaningful protection. And is of enormous benefit. Far better t o prevent the violation than merely give redress afterwards. The positive obligations laid out in the Act provide protection that is for everyone.

And my fourth principal point is the legislation’s guarantee of state protection for all. The Human Rights Act has had a far more a profound effect on our society than perhaps has been realised by society. Its effect has been far more beneficial than the occasional court case. Or the isolated right upheld. It has moved rights into the mainstream. It has changed the focus of rights to be for the mainstream. Not for others. Not just for the terrorist, or criminals or chancers, but for the majority. For the ordinary decent hard working man and women, young and old. It is not a terrorist’s charter, nor is it accurately represented in the media. It is society’s charter. It has a defining effect on the state and the relationship between the state and every individual

The Human Rights Act has brought rights home. It has made rights real in our British Courts. It has enshrined meaningful and real protection. For everyone.

And it has done so not just through the courts but through embedding a culture where people’s dignity is respected throughout the State, at national and local level.

It is an effective mechanism, which promotes consideration of rights at every step of development of policy, legislation and decision making. It ensures proper consideration is given to the relationship with citizen. And that the wider interests of society are fully considered. Without the Act, it is hard to see how such guarantees could be given.

That I can say so boldly that the Act gives guarantees is because the Act also provides a mechanism by which rights that the State fails to protect can be enforced. Ensuring policy and legislation that are in breach can be re-considered. And decisions which violate the rights of the citizen can be questioned, remedies provided and steps taken to ensure that there is no further violation. All of this protection comes because of the Act, not in spite of it.

As I have sought to set out in my remarks, the guarantee given by the HRA is both hidden and visible – it can be held up, pointed to, and importantly relied upon when the interests of the individual are violated. Yet for all the confidence that its visibility can provide, its invisibility can achieve great effect. Day by day, being used as a tool by public bodies in policy and decision making to inform and frame decisions. To ensure that the rights of each one of us are at the forefront of all decisions

The Human Rights Act brings rights into the mainstream. It is for the majority. Sometimes that produces hard results. The Afghan Hijackers is such a case. But that does not mean we should give up on protection, or turn our back on guaranteeing society’s rights. Thomas Paine, the great advocate of the rights of man got it right I think when he said:

‘He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from repression’

The Human Rights Act brings the protection of rights to the forefront of modern society. And it places the onus squarely on the Sate to protect them for everyone. There is no guarantee unless they are for everyone.

That is a duty that this Government is proud to bear. And which it is determined to fulfil. The HRA is an effect mechanism by which all of our rights can be protected, and be guaranteed. They are for everyone and we must make sure they continue to be so.

Thank you.

Lord Falconer – 2006 Speech on Legal Aid

charliefalconer

Below is the text of a speech made by Lord Falconer on 7th November 2006 at the Legal Aid Forum held at the Law Society, Chancery Lane, London.

Introduction

Thank you for asking me here today.

It is the second time in almost as many weeks that I have addressed solicitors on the issue of legal aid.

Rightly so. Dialogue’s very important. And we will listen

Importance of Legal Aid

Legal Aid is a vital issue; it is something we must get right.

Society demands a legal aid system. It demands a system which aids the delivery for justice, which provides quality and which provides value for money. Since Attlee introduced legal aid nearly 60 years ago, it has provided millions of people with advice, support and representation. Many of whom would have been otherwise denied access to justice because they could not have afforded to pay.

Free access to justice for those who need legal aid is as integral to the Welfare State as the NHS or state education.

Without legal aid for anyone charged with a significant criminal offence, the criminal justice system could not function, and could not function fairly.

Without legal aid for family law – critical decisions around whether or not, for example a child should be taken into care could not be properly made.

Without legal aid the most socially excluded would not get advice and support for welfare, debt, relationship or housing 7problems.

Legal aid provides equality in the justice system.

Commitment to principles

This is why, in the UK, we should be proud of our legal aid system – proud but determined to ensure it continues to reach the people who need it

This is why the Government would never countenance the withdrawal of legal aid.

We remain committed to the principles of social justice. They are as essential now as they were for Attlee. And we remain as committed to safeguarding access to justice.

This is why I asked Lord Carter to look at how legal services were procured by Legal Aid authorities, particularly with regard to criminal defence, so that we have a sustainable future that can ensure continued, equitable, access to justice.

That is why we must go forward. Forward to a sustainable future that not only hangs on price, but also – and more importantly – the quality of legal aid services that are delivered.

I want to take the opportunity to reiterate some of the comments I made at the annual conference, and explain why there has been no backtracking, why I think it is important we implement the reforms and why I think it is vital that we work together

Some of what I say may be familiar to you – I make no apology for that. I say it because I believe it to be right, because I believe that the direction set by Carter is the right one and because I believe the public need a legal aid system that delivers for those who need to advice and representation and that represents value for money for the tax-payer.

This is a timely event. It is critical for the provision of legal aid services that we resolve the issues that we currently face and that we work effectively together. But also that we think about how it currently works in practice

We expect to publish our formal response to the consultation in the coming weeks.

And the government has already indicated we will accept Lord Carter’s plan as a blueprint for reform. The destination for legal aid will be best-value tendering, which has quality at its centre.

Market-based reform is the way forward for legal aid.

Because it seeks to ensure the money is targeted as much as possible on those who need it.

However, I accept that some aspects of Lord Carter’s proposals may need refinement – for example, for the period before the price element of best value competition is introduced.

There is no retreat in our position for reform – we stand by the principles of fixed and graduated fees, as a prelude to competition, in all areas of legal aid – civil, family, immigration, and criminal. What we do accept is that these need to be appropriate to the nature of the work. We want providers to be able to do the most effective job and to have incentives related to this.

So we are looking afresh at the detail of our proposals on family legal aid. Many of the responses we received were specifically on this area. And I know it is something that Vera Baird was keen to address, after encountering significant concern over the family proposals during her summer tour to meet you and many others across the country.

So we are acting responsibly and looking again at the family proposals. It is a sign that the consultation is working, that it is doing what it is meant to.

We have listened and we are re-evaluating some of the key elements.

But we are not retreating from implementing the principles of Carter.

I am also acutely aware, following the Law Society Annual Conference of some other key issues which were raised by the delegates in the Q+A. This is how I understand them, and forgive me if this is not the case;

Firstly, there is not enough money.

Secondly, that the reforms will lead to over 800 firms going out of business;

and thirdly, that as a result of the reform it will be increasingly hard to attract lawyers to do legal aid work.

Serious and real concerns to many of you. But let me, if you’ll permit, address those concerns and suggest that all is not as bleak as it perhaps seems.

Not enough money

Firstly, not enough money. There is no extra money for legal aid. There is no bottomless pot. If I had the money I would give it to Legal Aid.

This Government has increased spending on public services dramatically over the last 10 years. And yet increased expenditure has also gone hand in hand, rightly, with increased efficiencies. The amount of money spent on legal aid has risen to more than £2billion during this period – which represents around a 37% increase in spending, an increase which compares favourably with all other public services, possibly bar health.

But there are finite resources for legal aid – just as for all public services -and those resources must be judged against other priority areas like health and education.

And despite the substantial investment over the past 10 years, the procurement of publicly funded legal advice and representation has not kept up with the pace of change. The system has grown organically rather than in a systematic way. Reform is long overdue – legal aid has not always provided a fair deal.

Above all it has not always been fair for vulnerable people. There has been a disproportionate growth in the criminal legal aid spend. And this is to the detriment of civil advice – advice which helps us tackle poverty and social exclusion. The balance must be redressed.

The taxpayer needs a fairer deal. The overall cost of legal aid has grown considerably in recent years. If we are going to justify this pressure on the public purse, we have to ensure that all of the money is being spent on the right things and that it is spent well.

But in all of this we want to ensure that legal aid rates continue to provide respectable remuneration for hard working practitioners. There needs to be a network of provision.

Legal aid spending in context

£2 billion is a considerable amount spent on legal aid – considerably more in fact than in any other comparable jurisdiction – it is simply not the case that under-funding is the problem. The problem is that this money could be more effectively utilised. What is required is for us to find efficiencies in the procurement system that can enable us to continue to deliver a world-class service. We also need to recognise that other parts of the system need to become more efficient as well.

There is simply no extra money for legal aid. We must operate within these parameters.

Like the provision of other mainstream public services, legal advice needs to deliver for the public. And this is more than delivering a high quality service to a client – this is delivering value-for-money for the taxpayer.

And this must come, in part, from a move to a market based approach.

A move I believe the Carter reforms will initiate.

A move I am committed to making work.

2. Profitability levels and firms being driven out of business

A great deal of concern has also been raised regarding the financial viability of the proposals. Concern that the timing of the introduction of fixed prices- before the efficiencies of a new system are able to reap benefit will put considerable pressure on businesses. And concern that profitability will be low even when the efficiencies are in place.

Dealing firstly with the timing of introducing fixed prices.

We are well aware of the pressure this may bring. And I assure you we are taking a long hard look at the sequencing of the reforms.

We remain eager to enter into a constructive discussion to find a workable arrangement – But finding more money is not a feasible nor constructive argument.

The second and more serious concern is the long term impact the reform will have.

I very much realise that to move from present arrangements to price competition, with interim fixed and graduated fees, will mean a great deal of change for suppliers in all areas of legal aid. But I accept Lord Carter’s view that such change is desirable, indeed it is essential, if we are to have a sustainable and increasingly effective supply base. Things simply cannot go on as they are.

There must be a move to the market. A move to a market based approach which will lead to increased efficiencies.

Fixed and graduated pricing rewards efficiency. Marketisation allows efficient suppliers to deliver and receive increased volumes of work.

Lord Carter’s model for best value tendering will free suppliers who meet the quality threshold to develop their own means of delivering products or services in response to external incentives and pressures. This means that where good quality services are costly to provide, prices will be higher, and where services are relatively inexpensive to provide, prices will be lower. The price element of competition means that it is the practitioners, in effect, who will therefore set the prices. This will ultimately result in good quality efficient suppliers earning a reasonable level of profit.

The issue is how many solicitors there are undertaking legal aid work. The market will dictate the number of solicitors who can undertake legal aid and the market will reward those solicitors who deliver efficiently. It is through supply and demand that efficiencies will be found, as solicitors find new and efficient ways of working. It is these efficiencies that are found that will, I believe, safeguard the future of solicitors providing legal aid services.

And this leads to the third area of concern; that these reforms will lead to a diminishing number of solicitors prepared to undertake legal aid work.

Dearth of Solicitors

I fully accept that we cannot provide those who need help with that help unless the profession can continue to attract people to do legally aided work.

The move to the market will provide fresh incentives for solicitors. The market will reward the efficient solicitor of quality, not drive them away. And the reforms we are proposing will mean that solicitors can all compete on an equal footing, regardless of the size of their firm.

I firmly believe that there will be opportunity for firms, even in large rural or black and ethnic minority areas to increase their profitability.

I truly believe that the reforms are workable and achievable. Incentives are there. There are practitioners out there – indeed very likely some here today- who will be able to take advantage of the opportunities they give, in a way that is good for the client, good for the legal aid system, good for the taxpayer, and good for practitioners.

But to achieve this we must work together to ensure that we continue to have a supplier base that can meet the needs of those who require advice and represent particularly those who are socially excluded.

It is this desire to make sure that everyone, and in particular the most vulnerable of our society, has recourse to high quality legal aid that underpins the importance of a sustainable and effective legal aid system.

Peer review

You, the providers, will ensure that quality is at the heart of the legal aid framework. Lord Carter proposed that the responsibility of quality assurance – through a process of peer review – should be passed to the Law Society.

Peer review by the Law Society will ensure that only quality-assured providers will be able to undertake legal aid work. This is one of the most important aspects of the proposals. Peer review has been almost universally welcomed and, I am confident that it will guard the public against any diminution in the quality of legal advice.

However, we also recognise that such radical reform will ostensibly require a change in the way practitioners operate.

That is why the LSC are currently working with the Law Society to sort out the details of the grant programmes with the Law Society. Grant programmes which will be used to help provide specialist assistance in restructuring your firms or to invest in modernising your IT. The Law Society has an important role to play in assisting firms throughout this transitional period.

Consultation

A large number of individual legal aid practitioners – as well as the Law Society itself – contributed formally by submitting written responses to the proposals. The consultation closed on 12 October and I would like to extend my thanks to the Law Society and its members for engaging fully in the process.

We are considering the comments of everyone who has responded. We will not shy away from difficult decisions, nor will we be afraid to look again at proposals if we believe them to be wrong.

Conclusion

And it is now right that we go forward. That we go forward with the principles of Carter leading the way.

A market based approach will ensure sustainability.

It will ensure value for money for the taxpayer. It will ensure a fair deal for all.

But it will not enforce a one size fits all solution. There will be differences between an urban and a rural practice, for example.

We want to get these reforms right, for all our society, but particularly for those who most need it.

We need to get these reforms right.

And we need to get these reforms underway. We must take steps over the coming months to ensure the long term viability of the system – a system I know we all believe passionately should exist.

But we need your involvement. If we are to achieve this we want to work with you, to ensure that we get this right.

My vision is for a legal services market that is reflective and responsive to modern society. A legal system that is suitable for the modern democratic world we live in. A legal services market which has at its core a profession driven by the need of its clients and in so doing holding public confidence.

The current legal aid system needs reform. It needs an overhaul. We are committed to moving forward. We are committed to moving to the market. My hope is for a legal aid system which is fair to the vulnerable, fair to taxpayers, fair to defendants, and fair to practitioners.

A system we need your help to implement.

Lord Falconer – 2004 Speech to the Law for Journalists Conference

charliefalconer

Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer on 26th November 2004 to the Law for Journalists Conference on 26th November 2004.

I am delighted to be here to speak to you today.

Because today is an important milestone on our path to good government: government which is both more open, and government which is more effective.

This morning, I signed the Commencement Order which officially brings the Freedom of Information Act fully into force on 1 January 2005 – now barely a month away.

This is, I believe, an important step towards the realisation of a long-promised commitment: a commitment to openness, to freedom of information, to radical reform.

I want to talk to you today about this reform:

– what it means, to you and to the public

– what we’re doing to make it work

– and what you need to do for your part to make it work

Signing the Order this morning is an important step. But it is only a step. We will deliver on our commitment to freedom of information when the Act comes into force in a few weeks’ time. But only in part.

Because real delivery will only take place when freedom of information is integrated fully into what government does. Now, and in the future. Not a bolted-on afterthought. But fully part of how government does its business.

Getting even to this point has been far from easy. Reaching the stage where the implementation of the legislation is only a few weeks away has been a hard, hard road.

No-one should be in any doubt about how tough it has been, how tough it is being now, and how tough it will be to change the way governments do things.

When people talk about cultural change, the glibness of the phrase can sometimes not get anywhere near catching the scale of the challenge.

Cultural change in Whitehall is exactly like turning round the classic ocean liner. Opening up Whitehall and introducing freedom of information is a titanic task.

But it’s also a vital task – and vital that it succeeds.

It’s essential that government finally embraces openness.

The benefits of open government are clear: transparency, accountability, honesty. That’s the kind of government which people want to see.

Making sure that people get those benefits is hard. But it’s worth it.

Politics rarely achieves anything without a struggle. Securing freedom of information has been a real struggle. But: no pain, no gain. The difficulty of opening up Whitehall is a measure of precisely how important it is to do it.

From January 1, the Act puts in place, for the first time in this country, a presumption of openness. A presumption that there is general public interest in access to information.

And, just as importantly, it also recognises that this presumption, in order to enable the government to govern, must have limits.

Just as the Act itself struck a balance between openness and retention, so we shall strike a balance in its application.

Good government is open government. But good government must be effective government too.

Without openness we cannot hope to encourage greater participation in our democratic life.

Without openness we cannot hope to build public confidence in the way that we are governed.

And without confidence we cannot develop the credibility and effectiveness of public authorities, both in Whitehall and beyond.

These objectives – greater democratic engagement; greater confidence in government; greater credibility and effectiveness – are objectives for which all of us should strive.

One of the tests of the success of this Freedom of Information Act will be the extent to which it improves the quality of government.

Openness and transparency lead to better decision-making.

Greater accountability will improve standards.

The Act is designed to bring about a more transparent and honest dialogue, and to make services more responsive to the public.

We have cast the net widely.

The scope of the Act is almost without international precedent, with over one hundred thousand public authorities covered by the legislation.

From those who provide the services on your doorstep to the largest Government department, from the regional health authority to the local doctor’s surgery, and from 10 Downing Street to the local school: the Freedom of Information Act applies to them all.

And we will not be passive in our approach.

This is not about leaving the statute on the shelf – sitting back and waiting to see whether it will succeed or fail.

In fact, it’s the opposite.

In our preparations for 1 January 2005, we have sought to learn the lessons from other Freedom of Information jurisdictions overseas. Some jurisdictions in other countries left Freedom of Information to manage itself, leaving the policy rudderless. We will not do that.

A clear lesson is the crucial importance of leadership and management not just in the lead-up to a new regime, but in the months and indeed years that follow.

I will make sure this happens.

We’ve done a lot – over a number of years – to turn the aspiration of open government into a reality. And we will do all we can to make the reality work.

My Department has been focussing its energies primarily on preparations within central government; the Information Commissioner has been taking the leadership role across the broader public sector. I believe that that division of labour has been invaluable in preparing the way for successful implementation of the Act.

I am determined to make the Act work. I urge you to judge us by what we do to make it happen, and by what we have already done:

Today, as well as signing the implementation order, my Department is publishing a revised Statutory Code of Practice showing what public authorities must do to make a success of the Act.

A month ago, my Department published clear and comprehensive guidance aimed at officials and lawyers in government departments.

This guidance will ensure that a potentially complex piece of legislation, with connections to other legislation and information access regimes, is consistently and appropriately applied. It provides a balanced and responsible approach to the proper application of the Act.

My Department has also established a Central Clearing House to assist officials in dealing with complex requests for information. This Clearing House will act as an expert advice centre from which advice on the appropriate application of these access regimes can be sought by officials in central government departments. It will be responsive to emerging case law as our practical experience develops.

And information is for all, not the privileged few. We are clear that no individual should be priced out of the right to know.

Under the fees proposals that I announced last month, there will be no charge for the majority of information supplied under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Government will lay fees regulations before Parliament shortly. There will be no charge for information that costs public bodies less than £450 to provide. And for central government, the cost ceiling will be set at £600. This is the right approach. It confirms our commitment to making open government a reality for all.

What does all this mean in practice ? What difference will FOI make to the public ?

One answer is the difference it is already making.

In many areas, Freedom of Information is already making a significant difference, before the full introduction on 1st January.

Look, for example, at the schemes set up by the police forces, by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Health, which – for example – now publishes information on local MRSA rates on its website.

Major announcements, such as the assessment of the five economic tests for joining the Euro, are now underpinned by the publication of supporting studies, including externally commissioned studies on technical economic policy issues.

And my own Department has published, for the first time, its evidence to the Senior Salaries Review Body, which makes recommendations about the pay of the judiciary.

I believe this is all imaginative, user-friendly and interactive information – provided as a matter of course, rather than after being prodded to do so. Communication direct to the public.

But we will go even further than this

Where, for example, we see scope in raising the standard for Whitehall publication schemes, we will take it.

By referring to a departmental publication scheme, individuals will be able to directly access information, including a wide range of background factual analysis behind policy decisions and contract information.

All departments have publication schemes in place already. What we need to do now is develop this. My department is encouraging others within government to review their publication schemes continually, so that all meet a ‘gold standard’, giving the public easy access to information without the need to make a request.

And, in government, we are committed to pro-active releases of information, including releases of the background material assembled and analysed in the development of policy and the making of decisions.

Let me give you a concrete example:

Police forces up and down the country have already begun to release more information about speed cameras. Information that responds to genuine public concerns about their use. Information that is proactively released in publication schemes.

And now we’re going further.

In January and April of next year, the Department for Transport will publish extensive data on the location of cameras and ‘before and after’ casualty rates. Data of direct interest to everybody who uses the roads across the country. Freely available in the department’s scheme.

A simple, powerful example of our commitment to release information without anybody asking us to do so.

Releases of information of this kind, some of which represent information released for the very first time, demonstrate our commitment to a clear step-change in terms of the openness that people can expect from government.

But let me be clear too – about what Freedom of Information will not be.

The Freedom of Information Act does not signify a ‘free for all’.

It does not mean disclosure of every piece of advice.

It does not mean every discussion and disagreement becomes the subject of public debate.

When the Bill was going through Parliament there were people who said it did not go far enough – that the exemptions were too numerous and that no provision should have been made for a ministerial override, even one so narrowly drawn.

But the exemptions are there for good reason. If the balance goes too far the other way, good government would be impossible.

Governments of all political stripes, need to be able to reflect upon policy options. To share their ideas and proposals candidly before collectively deciding on an official policy line.

FOI will not change this. It is not in the public interest for policy to be formulated in an atmosphere that prevents Ministers and officials from thinking across the whole range of options.

Similarly FOI does not allow for real-time access to Cabinet minutes. And nor should it. There needs to be balance to allow access to information, but also to allow scope for private debate, discussion and dissent.

But, once policy decisions have been publicly taken, the supporting information – the background and the statistical facts – used to adopt the policy position should be made available.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

If the Government is making decisions on its renewable energy programme, it is important to make available the empirical evidence on which decisions were made. Information which would help members of the public understand the basis on which decisions were made.

But it would hinder good government, if we were to make available the full range of policy advice Ministers considered. To do so would hinder innovation. It would risk undermining free and frank policy-making in the future.

And let’s take another example where balance is needed – in the international arena.

No-one could argue that information provided to us in confidence by another state should be disclosed in all circumstances.

There will be occasions where the clear effect of disclosure would be to sour the relationship between two countries. It would send out a highly negative message to our international partners about the value we place on the information they provide to us.

This would not be in the public interest, nor the national interest.

Nobody really disagrees that exemptions are necessary to protect crucial information in areas such as defence, foreign affairs or national security.

In these sensitive areas, it is right that many of the discussions held and decisions taken should be shielded from full public glare.

So, we need to look at freedom of information in terms of balance.

In individual cases, we need to look at the balance between the need for confidentiality as a means of promoting effective government, and openness as the best means of promoting that same objective.

In the months and years to come, there will no doubt be a great deal of debate about whether particular, individual documents should be disclosed.

And, no doubt, these individual decisions will be held up as examples of the Act being either a complete failure, or a resounding success.

But what we should really be looking for is whether there is a shift in approach across the piece. Whether public bodies are becoming more open, whether the standard of information and of debate is being raised.

As journalists you have a clear part to play here. You are the prism through which the public will often look at open government.

We are taking our responsibilities seriously. We are determined to make this work in a way that is pragmatic, sensible and shifts the balance in a very real way.

I hope you will share this approach. You need to take your responsibilities seriously too.

The media in all its forms – television, radio, advertising, newspapers, the internet – now penetrates all our lives every day in a way that would have been impossible thirty years or more ago.

With that increased influence comes an increased responsibility.

From January, the public’s right to know – and your right to know – will be supported in statute and enforceable in practice.

Freedom of Information will give you as journalists access to more information than has been made available before.

This is a powerful new tool and I hope that you will welcome the opportunity to use it constructively.

One of the reasons why freedom of information has been vital in opposition, but unappealing in government is because it presents risks.

More cautious Governments would say that freedom of information means more challenges. More questions. More complaints.

But it is right that we do this. Let me give you a recent example:

The Press Gazette, just two weeks ago, reported how the Ipswich Evening Star approached the Suffolk constabulary for a look at files on a notorious, but now decades-old, unsolved murder.

The police dealt with this as if it were a request on the 2nd of January. They opened their files.

It led to a great splash in the paper.

But more importantly it started to build a better connection between the media, the public institution – in this case the police – and the public.

There was openness and people could see for themselves the facts of the case and make their own judgements based on all the information.

Under Freedom of Information, the public themselves will have the opportunity to have access to the information and form their own view.

We in government and you in journalism have a clear responsibility to help them in doing so.

It is in our interest as government to show people how government reaches decisions in their names. Freedom of information, done properly, will mean better government.

And it is in your interest to use the act wisely, so that people can see the full picture. Freedom of information, used properly, will mean better journalism.

The debate about freedom of information in the coming weeks will inevitably focus on the details. What is being disclosed, what will be exempt.

That’s important. But the argument over freedom of information runs at a deeper and even more important level too.

Freedom of information is an important step – a bold and significant step – in how people and the state work together. With the media as a key agent in that relationship.

It is the next stage in a revolution which, step-by-step, is reshaping the relationship between citizen and state – strengthening the connection between government and the public we serve.

It will change the relationship between the citizen and the state, between school and parent, between patient and hospital, even between politician and journalist.

For too long, freedom of information was an aspiration of political parties – more particularly, my political party – when in opposition. And for too long, it remained for political parties an aspiration if or when they reached government.

From January 1, that is about to change.

From January 1, freedom of information can bring about a real change in the quality as well as the quantity of information that both government and the media put into the public domain.

From January 1, freedom of information can improve the quality, accuracy and completeness of the public debate.

From January 1, freedom of information can mean that the relationship between the government and the people, and between the media and the people, can be different. Can be better. Can be more open. More transparent. More honest.

Those are objectives worth striving for.

And we both have a job to do.

We as politicians in government. You as journalists in the media.

Not for the benefit of government. Not even for the benefit of the media. But for the benefit of the public.

Let’s get on and do it.

Lord Falconer – 2003 Speech to Labour Party Conference

charliefalconer

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, to the 2003 Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth on 2nd October 2003.

There have been Lord Chancellors for over a thousand years of British history.

But in more than 100 years of Labour history, no serving Lord Chancellor has ever addressed our Party Conference. So I am the first. And – as this Labour government is abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor – I am also going to be the last.

The abolition of that role marks real change – change for a purpose: change to make the justice system serve all of the people – particularly those  who need it most; the kind of change Labour governments are elected to achieve.

I joined the Labour Party 25 years ago to make changes – spurred on by Tory cuts in Wandsworth, by the values of this party and by the desire we all have to make things better.  And I remember all too vividly the long years of Labour in opposition – where, for all the leaflets, all the canvassing and all the radical ideas, we were unable to make any real changes to benefit local communities.  Now this New Labour government is making some of the most radical and far-reaching reforms to the justice system. Not undermining its independence.  But making it fairer: not just to defendants – but to all those who depend on it.

The post-war Atlee government wanted to see education and health available to all. That vision is still what New Labour wants today. But Atlee wanted as well to see justice for all.   We share that ambition: but if we are to honour that legacy, then our system of justice urgently needs reform.

Because people and communities hit hard by deprivation and by crime look to a Labour government: to fight on their side; to renew their neighbourhoods; to protect them against crime; and to give their children a future.

But there is no hope of renewal if the community is dominated by the fear of crime and drugs. Many people living on run-down estates say that, whatever their housing problems, what’s even worse is the impact of crime and anti-social behaviour, and the fear that their children will fall prey to drugs. So to help our communities, we must fight crime and drugs effectively.

A proper criminal justice system is essential for that.  But the battle begins well before the criminal justice system: with education, economic opportunity, identifying children at risk and providing alternatives to drugs.  We know we can’t stop every crime.  But the well-being of our communities depends upon a criminal justice system in which people have faith.

We’ve all heard people say it: what’s the point?  What’s the point of reporting a crime?  What’s the point of calling the police?  What’s the point in coming forward as a witness?  We’ve heard too many stories of offenders bailed for an offence who go out and do it again while they’re still on bail – and nothing happens to them. Or of the defendant who’s fined – and just doesn’t bother to pay it.  Or of the offender who gets off drugs in prison – and then on the day they’re released goes straight back to the dealer.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have already put the fight against crime at the heart of this government’s agenda. And we are making good progress. Crime was lower at the end of our first term than when we came to office. Police numbers are at their highest ever. Persistent young offenders are now dealt with in half the time they were when we came to power.

David Blunkett and I are working closely together in tackling crime.  But to make a real difference, to provide the real drive that our communities so long to see, we must press ahead with reforming the criminal justice system.  Radically.  Radical reform to benefit the public.  Because for too long the system has focused too much on the people working in it.  And too little on the people it’s supposed to be there for: the victims, the witnesses, the community – people harmed by drugs and crime, not people doing the harm of drugs and crime.

So we need to shift the balance. When defendants are summoned to court, they’ve got to come.  When people are fined, those fines must be paid.  When custodial sentences are appropriate, then the courts should apply them. But we need as well to make sure that we can break the cycle of crime, that we can make a difference to an offender’s behaviour – getting them out of crime and back into civil society. When offenders are clearly driven by drug abuse, we need to ensure that drug treatment is available – and that it works.

So we must make sure that the system serves the public – not the other way round.

Let me give you an example. On 15th August 1998, on a normal, quiet Saturday in Omagh, Northern Ireland, 29 people were murdered in an appalling act of terrorism. A terrorist attack on a scale unprecedented in the UK. Of course anyone accused of the Omagh bombing must have a fair trial. They must have the opportunity to challenge any charge. They are entitled to the presumption of innocence. They would be entitled to legal aid. That’s right. And it’s fair.

But what about the victims? The victims’ families can’t afford all the legal costs to bring civil proceedings to court to seek to establish who committed the atrocity. Under the way things are now, they can’t get the support of legal aid. This isn’t right. It isn’t fairness. And it isn’t justice. The victims of the Omagh bombing deserve exceptional support. We will make sure that the victims can get legal aid, that they can bring their case to court, and that they can seek justice.

We need a simpler justice system. A more straightforward justice system. A justice system which is more open, and more transparent. And that change has got to start at the top.

Lord Chancellors in Britain have, throughout their history, performed complicated balancing acts: being head of the judiciary, speaker of the House of Lords and a Cabinet minister, all at the same time. That isn’t right. Tackling crime, making sure the justice system works as we want it to work, requires me, as the Secretary of State in charge of the courts and legal aid, to be working full time on the problem : working with others to deliver results on the ground, driving through radical reform. So we are going to abolish the role of Lord Chancellor. We are going to move the highest court of appeal from the House of Lords to a Supreme Court. We are going to ensure that judges are appointed through an independent appointments commission.

To restore faith and trust in our institutions we must set decent standards which the public expect to see enforced.  We must make our institutions open, transparent, and relevant.  So it isn’t acceptable any longer, for this party or for this country, to have people in our legislative system, in the House of Lords, who are there only by birth.  We want to go further in reforming the House of Lords.  But we are clear: we can no longer support an arrangement where there are members of the Lords able to vote on the legislation of this country wholly and solely by birth.

And on our other reforms: we need to see our human rights legislation fully effect a whole range of social and equality issues – not just about the rights of the defendant, but about achieving dignity for those in need. We have to be open in government, too: we have to see freedom of information working, and working properly.

Our reforms are radical; they are real reforms; they are Labour reforms. They are there for a purpose: to restore faith in our institutions; to protect our communities, and our people; to help people fight terror, to fight drugs, to fight crime.

That means a fair justice system. A system which understands the needs of the public, and a legal aid system which delivers for the needy.

When people are dealing with housing problems, debt problems, family problems, we have to have advice available for those who need it most. I want to redouble our efforts to secure access to justice. A justice system is not effective unless there is access for all.

Without a reformed justice system, and without real and renewed efforts to fight crime, then there’s precious little hope for so many of the communities who look to this New Labour Government for renewal and regeneration.

We cannot allow that to happen. We will not allow that to happen. So Labour must deliver for all the people. A future fair for all. Justice for all.

Lord Falconer – 2003 Speech to the Law Society Council

charliefalconer

Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer to the Law Society Council in London on 17th December 2003.

I’m delighted to be here today. Frankly, I’m also astonished to be here today.

Delighted because of the opportunity to speak to the Council of the Law Society. Astonished because I understand that I am the first Lord Chancellor ever to do so.

However, all I can say is that, given my declared intention to abolish myself, you struck well in getting the Lord Chancellor here for the first time because – depending on the will of Parliament – the first time may also be the last time.

I want to do two things today:

Firstly, to say something about that reform, and all the reforms we’re bringing forward, across the whole range of the justice system

And secondly, to say something – as your Chief Executive, Janet Paraskeva, has asked me to do – about how I see the future of your profession within that landscape of reform

But before I do so, could I just take this opportunity to thank Janet, and indeed this Council and the Law Society as a whole, for all of the positive contribution you make to our justice system. In Janet you have a first-rate chief executive, and though we are bound to take different views from time to time in our discussions, I believe both you and I would say that relations between the Society and me and my department are positive, constructive and helpful and I very much welcome that, and thank you for it.

The programme of constitutional reform we have already carried out in government since 1997 is a large one. But we believe there is more to do.

In The Queen’s Speech a few weeks ago, we set out our legislative agenda for this year. We have made provision to legislate on the policy proposals we put forward immediately on the creation of the Department for Constitutional Affairs That includes:

– the abolition of that office

– the removal of the Law Lords as the final appellate committee in the House of Lords

– the creation instead of a proper Supreme Court

– the ending of my power to appoint all judges in Britain, and of my role as the head of the judiciary

– the establishment of an independent commission to recommend judicial appointments

This is a big programme of reform and going with it is also further reform of the House of Lords.

But it is reform for a purpose. It is reform to help create a better system of justice in Britain. I’m proud of our justice system in Britain. I flew in this morning from a short trip to the USA, and though there are many fine things about the American justice system, I think we here in the UK can hold our heads up high about the British justice system. It is good. It does work. But just because it is good and it does work doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek to improve it. I strongly believe that the best time to reform and improve is not at a time of crisis, but from a position of strength and stability. And that’s what we intend to do.

Could I spend the rest of my time talking to you today to about the part solicitors play in the justice system. I want to touch on three main areas:

– how things seem to me now

– my own view of where we need to go

– and as a result, what I think we should do to get there.

Could I say at the outset that I believe and believe very strongly that the vast majority of transactions undertaken by lawyers serve the public very very well indeed. The public rightly look for good service from the legal system and from the lawyers within it, and in the vast majority of cases that’s exactly what they get. I believe that the profession in general, and of course solicitors’ part in the profession, can in the main consider that they do a good job, and do it well.

But at the same time, there’s no doubt that for too long, many people have found interacting with the legal profession daunting, or sometimes more than that: a complex, challenging, sometimes even alien experience, with lawyers sometimes operating in a manner and in an environment a world away from most people’s lives.

The significant areas of difficulty seem to me to be these:

– unmet need

– unmet demand

– customer care

– and associated with this, barriers to entry for people who wish to become solicitors.

It’s clear to me that there are customers’ needs which the system is not yet meeting. There are people who need advice, who need representation, who are not getting it. The National Periodic Survey of Legal Needs produced by the Legal Services Research Centre for the first time gives us hard evidence of unmet need. A need for help and advice on welfare problems. On family problems. It shows us the need for help and advice on problems arising from deprivation: on housing, debt, benefits, employment, immigration, and community care. People facing social exclusion often have a number of inter-related problems which need expert independent advice. Early intervention to tackle such problems can really help. I’m sure that the results of the follow-up survey, to be released in the New Year, will reinforce this view – and demonstrate clearly that there is unmet need to which the legal system must respond.

But there is unmet demand, too. Customer attitudes are changing. We should and do welcome that. Customers today demand more choice. Better prices. Higher quality. And again that’s quite right. We need to know in detail what people want from the legal system. What their unmet demands actually are.

If, for example, we have Tesco law, will we discover that more people have a personal injuries claim ? That more people are victims of domestic violence? And if we do, what does that tell us about the current market for legal services ? Why are these people not going to solicitors at the moment? Why are some Personal Injury claimants choosing to use the unregulated businesses that have been springing up? And as we respond to these needs, we need to ensure that, in giving the customers what they want, we do it in a way which properly protects their interests. The link between regulation and better services is absolutely crucial. We must get the balance right.

In all this, the customer is vital. That means meeting customer need and customer demand. But it also means taking action when things go wrong.

Customers must not only be able easily to access the quality services they need at competitive prices, they must also be sure that, if things go wrong, their complaints will be handled quickly and fairly. Solicitors need to handle complaints properly and, if they don’t, the OSS needs to respond, and to respond quickly within a reasonable time.

I readily acknowledge that the majority of solicitors not only do high quality work but are properly responsive to complaints. But the few who are still unresponsive or take too long distort customer perceptions in a way which impacts on the whole profession.

I readily acknowledge that the Society has made, and continues to make, considerable efforts to improve its complaints handling regime. But more must be done. If the unhelpful, the inefficient, know that a complaint to the Law Society will be handled quickly and efficiently, they will be more anxious to avoid the complaint getting that far.

I am watching with interest the recent improvements in turnaround by the OSS, but there too the pressure for sustained, embedded improvement must be maintained. Maintaining that pressure is for you – but, it is also for me.

Failing the customer not just once, through the delivery of a poor service, but twice, in failing to put the original wrong right, or address legitimate complaints swiftly and fairly cannot, and must not, be allowed to happen.

To meet the needs of a diverse customer base we will also require a diverse profession. Talent must be drawn from all quarters of our society. We must do all that we can to ensure that the legal profession is open to the most able people in our country.

So we need to look critically at barriers to entry for solicitors. How can we drive down the cost of qualifying? Is there more the profession can do to help with those costs? It is in the interests of the profession to match the diversity of their customers with the diversity of their lawyers, so it is surely also in the interests of the profession to help bring this about.

Cost is a problem. So too is the availability of training contracts. I am setting out a vision of a much more competitive, much more responsive profession which is good for consumers. But better competition also benefits the providers by expanding markets; and with that expansion I hope we will see many more training opportunities, opportunities which are open to the widest range of people.

I believe that to tackle all these issues, the legal system and the role of the solicitor must change. Going forward, the role of the solicitor will only be judged to be working effectively if there is clear and demonstrable evidence that solicitors are continuing to serve the public well.

So I believe that the solicitors’ profession should:

– meet the needs and demands of the public looking for legal services by providing advice and services of real quality

– reach those parts of society which can most benefit from advice, irrespective of their means

– and be both diverse and representative, so that it is well equipped both to serve the public properly, and to play its full part in both the legal profession and the justice system, in particular by providing a pool from which Judges are appointed

How can we best achieve this vision ? How can we, working together, secure this better future for the solicitors’ profession within a legal framework, a legal system, which works better for the public?

Again, I think there are three key issues:

– regulation

– legal aid

– customer care

How solicitors provide services to the public – in what form, and at what price – is inextricably linked with regulation. Is the balance right between regulation and the needs of the customer? We have to find an answer to that question in a way which provides better service, consistent with proper consumer protection.

A diverse, flexible and responsive legal landscape will require a flexible, responsive and accountable, regulatory regime.

I know that, once again, the Law Society is working to meet this need. I welcome the significant work in simplifying the rules of conduct, for example, that has been undertaken by your Regulation Review Working Group. But more needs to be done. Despite welcome steps forward, current users of legal services, whether at the consumer or business end of the market, may not always be served by the existing model of regulation. We know that it can be over complex and can prevent growth and innovation.

So what we needed was a root and branch examination of the system as a whole, to establish what works well and what needs to be changed.

That’s why I’ve asked David Clementi to undertake this challenging task. David will report by the end of 2004. Ahead of that, he will issue a major consultation document early in the New Year. I want to see the Law Society supporting and contributing to this review. There can be no sacred cows in seeking to deliver the high standards of services that customers want.

But we must not let the welcome fact of the work of the Clementi Review put a stop to all progress in the meantime. We need to work together to examine areas where change for the consumer’s benefit can be delivered in the short and medium term. Multi-disciplinary partnerships, the role of employed solicitors, the probate market – these are just some of the areas we should look at quickly and imaginatively to see how we can respond rapidly to consumers’ needs whilst, of course, ensuring that their interests are properly protected.

Turning to legal aid, I attach particular importance to the legal aid work carried out by dedicated and conscientious lawyers and advice workers. I know their work is not always appreciated. But it is of central importance to our ambition to be a society that protects the rights of the most vulnerable. I intend to ensure that we continue to support the vital public service they provide in tackling social exclusion and in protecting the fundamental rights of some of the most vulnerable members of society.

I doubt that any one would deny, however, that there are problems with the legal aid system. We are all working to find suitable solutions. I know you in the Law Society have been working hard on a strategy for legal aid, and I very much welcome your contribution to the debate in this vital area.

But the task of dealing with the problems with legal aid is made all the more difficult by the fact that there is unlikely to be any increase in funding. Our budget this year is some £2 billion. That’s a big bill by any standards – £500 million more than in 1997/98 when the Government came to power.

The Government has a responsibility to ensure that we are getting the best possible value for money from the legal aid system. We must therefore seek to minimise our transaction costs and reduce bureaucracy on the Government side. In order to develop more robust controls, we need a far better understanding of why the cost per case has increased in some areas. We need look at the legal processes which drive legal aid costs, as well as rigorously cost all policy change so that we can estimate and fund consequential legal aid costs.

We are also consulting on proposed changes to the Criminal Defence Service. The aim of the changes are to better target resources and to get real value for money by removing from the scheme less serious matters. No final decisions have been made on which proposals to implement, although I have been considering responses received during the consultation period before making final decisions on what changes to make.

Finally, customer care. Once lessons have been learned we need to share that new knowledge with others – particularly with customers. I very much applaud the Clients Charter that was introduced earlier this year. But I want you to do yet more: more to ensure that the customer can make positive choices based on good information. A simple example of this is that yet again, ‘delay’ and ‘lack of response’ were the main causes of complaint referred to the Law Society last year. How many of those issues would have been resolved if the customer had been better informed?

I believe that the Society has the potential to bring about significant changes and improvements to practices and policies by working closely with others. It has also demonstrated an ability to adapt to new environments and meet new challenges. The appointment of a Legal Services Complaints Commissioner will provide the Society with a further opportunity to showcase these skills in a prominent and meaningful way. The role of the LSCC will bring a new perspective to how complaints have previously been examined – a perspective I believe which will benefit both the organisation and the complainant. I look forward, with the Society, to a time when the legal profession is heralded as a model of excellence in customer care.

There are, of course, other issues, such as the Community Legal Service, for instance. I believe that the CLS is a success. I think it has an important role to play in ensuring the responsive and flexible delivery of legal services. Partnership coverage across the country is now extremely close to 100% and continues to progress far ahead of the government’s own targets. The take-up of the Quality Marking scheme has been exceptional.

But the CLS cannot stand still. We are continuing to move forward in a number of ways. If the Community Legal Service is to reach its full potential we realise that we need to continue to work hard to place legal and advice services at the heart of the government’s social inclusion strategies. We are also working with frontline staff: for example, to provide guidance on the CLS for Job Centre Plus staff. And an independent Review of the Community Legal Service is already underway which will provide a road map for the CLS for the next few years.

I know all of this, coming as it does within a wider programme of reform of the justice system, is a big agenda, both for you, as a Council, and for the solicitors you represent. And for us as a Government.

But I know as well that you will want to work to achieve it. Because I know that you want to represent solicitors as well as you can. Because you want to make the legal system in which they operate work as well as it can. Certainly, for those working in it. Of course their work must be properly recognised and properly rewarded. I know there are important financial and other issues to be addressed. But most importantly of all, for those whom the system, and all those working within it, including me and including you, are there to serve: the client, the customer, the public.

I know that is a shared goal. A shared objective. And I’m confident that you know and believe that the best way of reaching that goal is by working together. That’s always hard. It always needs patience, and co-operation. And sometimes, especially at times of real change, there will be difficulties along the way.

These are real challenges. Difficult challenges. But I believe that by working together, we can overcome those difficulties. We can resolve what problems we have. Because we want to meet the challenges which are there for us all: the challenge to improve choice, the challenge to achieve excellence, the challenge to promote innovation and the challenge to secure equality.

Lord Falconer – 2001 Speech on Housing

charliefalconer

Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer on 11th September 2001.

Thank you all very much for coming today to the launch of Better Places to Live: By Design.

We all know the huge cost of bad design. Bad design can facilitate high crime. It can repel people rather than attract them.

Too many housing estates are designed for nowhere but are found everywhere. They fail to sustain local services, they waste land and they promote dependency on the car. They easily end up being soulless and dispiriting.

Bad design creates barriers to building communities. It is socially destructive – and can be hugely costly as councils and social and private landlords struggle to maintain living communities against the odds.

It contributes to poor services and undermines social regeneration.

And it’s not just in cities – and not just in the rented sector. Across the country identikit estates, often sold as executive homes, have mushroomed. They make no architectural reference to their region.

So launching Better Places to Live is not simply some dry abstraction. It is about creating high quality living environments through good design. Places where people will want to live – and thrive.

It is the result of close partnership between my Department and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. So I’m delighted that Sir Stuart Lipton is here to help launch the guide and, of course, extremely grateful to CABE for their commitment and help with this document and agenda.

I am also pleased to welcome Geoff Ball, President of the House Builders Federation and Sir Terry Farrell, an architect and urban designer well known to you all. Geoff and Terry share this platform because we are also launching today Building for Life. This is an industry initiative with CABE and the Civic Trust to drive up the standards of design in new housebuilding. It is the perfect complement to Better Places to Live.

We are not setting ourselves up as style gurus. But we are challenging all those involved in the planning and development of new homes to think more imaginatively about design and layout.

Housing accounts for the vast majority of new development in this country. New housing changes places. That it is why it is so vital for places to be designed around the needs of people and not the other way round.

Yesterday I was in Plaistow to launch the New Deal for Communities annual review. This is a £2 billion programme already delivering real benefits to neighbourhoods.

The involvement of communities, local political leaders and businesses have proved crucial to the success of New Deal areas. They have proved what can be achieved by partnership – and good design.

Many of the crime cutting measures they have taken are simple. For example, putting gates across alleyways in Manchester and Salford has stopped criminals getting access to the backs of houses.

On the Hulme estate, simply fitting corner windows onto flats and houses has allowed people to see and be seen.

Good design is the key. This is a shared commitment by all of us on the platform today. Government, industry and our partners are clearly committed to deliver better design. This strikes me as a powerful combination.

The guide is intended to support the new approach to planning for housing we set out in PPG3.

Most of you will know that PPG3 is a fundamental change It has a brownfields first policy. At its heart is the challenge to create well-designed places for people to live.

Through it we want to deliver:

– more efficient use of land through higher densities;

– community safety by designing out crime;

– a better mix of housing types and sizes to promote social inclusion and affordable housing; and

– better access to local facilities and public transport.

In the past too much housing development has fallen short of what we should expect.

Better Places to Live shows this does not have to be so. In drawing up the guide we have looked at a number of contemporary developments and at places that have stood the test of time. Some will be familiar to you. Others less so. Look around the walls and you’ll see examples and photos of places.

We wanted to draw out the transferable lessons and explain how they can help create better residential environments. We are not saying the case studies are a template to follow in all aspects. But what they have in common is how good design can enhance the quality of life.

The challenge we face is delivering a fundamental change in the quality of the places we build. It is not meant to be a substitute for skilled designers. But we will achieve nothing without a shared ambition for quality. Above all, we need investment in design and people with the right skills working in the industry.

The prize is better communities. The penalty? The chronic social problems that leads to riots, disaffection, low voter turnout and a low quality of life. What you do today will have an affect on the way people live tomorrow.

I would now like to hand over to Sir Terry who will lead the initiative to say a words about it.

Lord Falconer – 2001 Speech to the British Retail Consortium

charliefalconer

Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Falconer to the British Retail Consortium on 27th November 2001.

Thank you for that kind introduction.

The retail industry is vital to the national economy. This morning I was in Eccles to open the new town centre and new transport interchange. The interchange helps link people to the centre. The importance of retail to the region is obvious. It’s a key sector, a major employer and an indicator of public confidence.

We in government appreciate your role.

We need your investment and innovation to help regenerate our towns, cities and local centres.

We need your help to deliver the urban renaissance.

And we need your help in tackling social exclusion by bringing shopping choice to communities.

We want to encourage the right development in the right place. We want you to develop and expand stores in town centres.

Investing in town centres and neighbourhood centres, providing good jobs for local people and creating confidence in the future – these are good for business and good for communities.

Changing the Planning System

As retailers you know how you are doing – your customers tell you.

You are our customers as far as the planning system goes. And you’re telling us that it’s not going well at present. That’s in terms of the process rather than the policy.

What do you want? As Terry Leahy put it at the CBI Planning Conference – certainty, consistency and transparency. But you’re not getting it.

Take development plans – they should deliver certainty. Since 1991 applications are supposed to be decided in line with the plan, unless there are good reasons not to. And all local authorities should have up-to-date plans.

Ten years on more than 10% of authorities still have no plan at all and nearly 40% of plans are out of date. Without up-to-date plans you have to rely on Government guidance.

In the retail field you have PPG6. It says plans should lead – providing positive guidance to retailers where to invest, allocating and helping assemble sites.

But today’s plans are often reactive – simply reasons for saying “no”.

The big uncertainty is not just what the decision will be, but how long the decision will take.

Complicated applications like major town centre shopping schemes take longer. Nobody’s suggesting the same time-scale for all applications.

But planning authorities need to ensure that larger, more complicated applications get sufficient resources. Some authorities lack resources and skills. This leads to delay. And delay costs money.

Another source of delay and uncertainty is planning obligations. The amount to be paid by developers and how it is resolved lacks clarity and certainty. And negotiations take too long.

Solutions

So what’s the solution?

You need greater certainty and a better service. You need to know the vision and strategy for town centres – developed with help from business and the community.

And you need to know where development will be encouraged.

We see town centres as places where the action will be.

We must change the culture of planning – we want positive planning – planning for development.

We want a system that is predictable.

And it has to be accessible. Both business and the community must be actively involved.

Plans

We will address the problem of complicated, out-of-date and contradictory plans.

We need a local planning framework that can be put in place quickly and kept up to date. We need to focus more on places that are changing. Like town centres.

We also need to simplify planning guidance, to focus on those things that are of national and regional significance.

We know PPG6 could be improved. We are reviewing its effectiveness in promoting retail investment in city, town, district and local centres. We are not proposing to change the policy, but to express it more clearly. Because clarity and certainty are vital in the planning field.

To give you greater certainty, we need clear, unambiguous policy guidance and to apply it firmly and consistently.

For planning applications, a more focused, user-friendly approach is required.

We will stress the importance of clear procedures, agreed timetables and time limits, so that you know when you will get your decision.

We must promote the importance of good, timely and predictable decisions as vital to the well-being of the community.

Both the Planning Inspectorate, who handle planning appeals, and we in Central Government need to improve our act. The call-in and appeals process creates uncertainty. It needs to be more transparent, more efficient and quicker.

We are also concerned about planning obligations. We know these can hold up development significantly in many cases. We need to streamline the procedure, providing certainty, while ensuring that the community shares in the benefits of development.

Compulsory Purchase

Having positive planning policies and timely decisions is vital. But local authorities can do more to make things happen. Land assembly, through compulsory purchase powers, has an important part to play in town centre renewal, bringing forward brownfield sites and regeneration.

We all know the process is archaic and complex, it takes too long, with too much uncertainty for acquiring authorities, for developers and for those whose land is taken. We are going to take action to put those problems right.

We will soon publish a consultation document setting out proposals for changes to the CPO system. The aim is to ensure that local authorities have adequate powers, to simplify and speed up the procedures, but equally to ensure that those affected and those whose land is taken are properly compensated.

One of the conclusions of our review was that many local authorities have lost the expertise to deal successfully with compulsory purchase orders.

We therefore commissioned a comprehensive manual to guide authorities through the procedures, with examples of good practice.

Therefore, over the next few weeks you are going to see:

– a Green Paper on reforming the planning system;

– a consultation document on new Parliamentary procedures for major infrastructure projects;

– a consultation document about compulsory purchase and compensation;

– new proposals for planning obligations; and

– a consultation paper on use classes.

This is a comprehensive, wholesale, radical look at planning. It will set out how we propose to deliver a fundamentally reformed planning system.

The time is right. Everyone agrees from central government to business to the community that action needs to be taken. We must deliver change.

Town Centre Regeneration

One of the key themes of PPG6 is town centre regeneration – developing a shared vision and strategy, taking a positive approach to planning, working in partnership and committing to the long term.

These are the lessons of our Beacon Council Town Centre Regeneration theme for 2001. Retailers need to be fully engaged in the future of the town centres in which they trade. Where there are genuine partnerships this will be achieved.

Based on the experience of the successful Beacon Councils we will disseminate good practice. Learning from the best will help town and city centres maintain their competitive edge.

We will also work with others to develop good practice. We are co-funding a National Retail Planning Forum good practice guide to improve pedestrian access from arrival points to key attractions in town centres.

Social Inclusion

Developing successful retail businesses in deprived areas is particularly challenging. It is difficult to attract new investment to these areas.

Local communities want a say in their own future. They want a part in developing local retail strategies. This will often mean revitalising local and district centres and attracting investment.

They need to find formats that meet the needs of their communities, not off-the-shelf, “big-bang” solutions. It requires a degree of sensitivity and means working with the community.

Town Centre Management and BIDs

Finally, could I turn to town centre management and ways of funding it.

Town centre management has come of age – over 300 town centres are now managed. But we have not yet delivered a sustainable system of funding.

We all recognise the need for new partnerships to develop and deliver a town centre strategy. But are we all committed to their continuing management?

In a managed shopping centre shops pay rates and service charges to ensure a well-managed operating environment. Why should town centres be different?

That is what Business Improvement Districts are all about. As you know, the Prime Minister has said that we propose to promote BIDs. With your help we will work up the proposal. We want consensus on the best way forward.

But we don’t need to wait for legislation. We want to work with business and property owners to devise equitable methods of funding town centres.

For our part, we will look at what we are putting into town centres and see how that funding can be used more effectively. That is why we have commissioned a cross-cutting review of the public realm.

Conclusion

Let me finish by encouraging you to keep investing in town centres. It is a barometer of your confidence in them as places to trade.

Last year, for the first time since the mid 1980s, more retail floorspace was completed in town centre schemes than in out-of-town shopping centres and retail warehouse parks.

We look to you as partners in a retail-led renaissance. We look to you to help:

– revitalise our town centres; and

– strengthen our local centres as part of our efforts in neighbourhood renewal.

We are pledged to make the system work better for you. To give you certainty and consistency through the planning system.

Ultimately success lies in local partnerships – between business, the local authority and the local community. Let me encourage you to become active partners working to deliver the local vision. Working for a retail-led renaissance.