Michael Gove asks well paid lawyers to work for free to cover legal aid funding gap

The justice secretary, Michael Gove, has suggested that well paid solicitors and barristers should contribute “much more” to ensure justice was available to all. He said that those who made the most financially from the legal system would be required to provide more free expertise.

His speech drew a strong reaction from law firms who said that they already contributed significantly pro bono and from campaign groups who said that the lack of access to justice was as a result of cutbacks in legal aid.

Gove told the business think tank the Legatum Institute that “those who have benefited financially from our legal culture need to invest in its roots” and argued that “more could – and should – be done by the most successful in the legal profession to help protect access to justice for all”.

Nick Armstrong, a barrister at Matrix Chambers said, “The reality is that legal aid practitioners are finding it extremely difficult to do it. They are reviewing and cutting their pro bono work because their profit margins have now gone.”

Mark Mansell, a partner at Allen & Overy who leads the firm’s pro bono initiatives, said: “We have witnessed first-hand the impact of a reduction in legal aid support through one strand of our programme in particular, which is focused on London’s free legal advice centres.”

Linklaters said its lawyers dedicated more than 25,500 hours to pro bono matters globally, 40 per cent of which were spent on access-to-justice initiatives.

Jo Edwards, chair of the family law organisation Resolution, said: “Cuts to legal aid have left many people with little or no access to justice, and many domestic abuse victims and other vulnerable people struggle to get the legal help they need to face the courts.”

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