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THE ADVOCATE V O L . 7 5 P A R T 2 M A R C H 2 0 1 7 201 The pith of the rule of law has been expressed in the following manner: “The core of the existing principle is … that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made … and publicly administered in the courts.” These are the words of the late Tom Bingham in his wonderful 2011 book The Rule of Law. In short, we are all equally bound by the law and are all equally entitled to the benefit of the law. The rule of law is an aspect of our social contract. As a society we are committed to a belief in equal access to the law. This is part of our spirit, our ethos. It is part of the social trust. As a collective we have a moral imperative to uphold the rule of law. As members of the legal profession, we also have a legal duty. Section 3 of the Legal Profession Act requires us to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons. In other words, preserving and protecting the rule of law is a significant part of the Law Society’s mandate, and this, necessarily, embraces legal aid. There is a long history to the Law Society’s involvement in legal aid. It goes back over half a century to the 1950s when organized legal aid was in its nascency. Over the ensuing years the Law Society had a significant voice on legal aid issues up to the publication of the Report of the Access to Justice Committee in 2000. Regrettably, since that time we have been effectively silent. Now the situation is at a nadir and it is critical that the Law Society speaks again. This is particularly so given the reductions in legal aid funding that have occurred beginning in the mid-1980s and running up to the drastic cuts of 2002 when the Legal Services Society’s funding was reduced by a remarkable forty per cent. The consequences of this were momentous. The Legal Services Society had to reduce its workforce by seventy-four per cent and replace its sixty branch offices with seven regional centres. At the same time, eligibility requirements were tightened; family law services were significantly curtailed and poverty law services eliminated. Pause and consider that last phrase: “poverty law services eliminated.” This is astonishing! Who among us require legal assistance more than the poor? How can we possibly tout our society as adhering to the rule of law, let alone being an exemplar of it, if we do not ensure that persons of limited or no means are able to access the law? Have we turned the calendar back more than a century to a time when Lord Justice Sir James Mathew sardonically stated: “In England, justice is open to all, like the Ritz Hotel.” We need to acknowledge a basic truth about our society. Simply put, there are a great many people—the poor, the working poor and many


March Pages 2017
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