Lord Falconer – 2015 Speech to Labour Party Conference


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.