Rather unexpectedly (apparently) we are now governed by a majority Conservative government. The formation of the first Conservative cabinet since 1997 has brought Michael Gove to the Ministry of Justice. A man noted for his reformist zeal. Much of the media focus has been on the now likely introduction of a British bill of rights.
However, I suspect that Mr Gove will also be contemplating the legal aid budget and more particularly how it can be stretched further in a department that will not be ring fenced from further spending cuts.
The Ministry of Justice is also responsible for legal service regulation and it has never been obvious to me that it has seen the connection between the regulatory framework and the legal aid budget. It is entirely possible that further reform of the legal services market could unleash new entrepreneurial providers particularly in the third sector that could help square the circle between cost and justice.
This is an issue which the ever brilliant Stephen Mayson has explored in an article referred to below. There is a careful line to be drawn between ensuring that the regulatory framework protects and serves the public interest but more could be done to unleash the social entrepreneurs who could save legal aid.
In these terms, then, the tension between regulation and innovation will remain. We definitely need more innovation to help serve the considerable (and possibly growing) volume of unmet need. We also need the proper framework of regulation to protect the underlying public interest and confidence in legal services and access to the justice system. The issue for the immediate future is not that there should be no tension between regulation and innovation in order to facilitate growth and deregulation, but that there should be the right tension.