Carl Fender is a barrister with 26 years’ experience, with legal expertise covering a wide range of disciplines. He is a passionate advocate for everyone’s right to legal aid.  He has been a lay member of the Church of England’s General Synod since 2015 and worships at St George’s in Stamford.

Since 2013, legal aid has been removed from many civil cases – these include help with family disputes such as divorce and childcare issues; personal injury cases such as road traffic accidents; breach of contract – where, for example, money is owed on a contract and employment law.

Through his work Carl has seen the effect the cuts have had at the frontline - with a disproportionate effect being seen on those who are the most vulnerable people in the community – the poor, disabled, those with literacy and numeracy challenges and mental health difficulties. It has also affected those with unstable immigration status.

Being a member of General Synod Carl was able to lodge a Private Members Motion (PMM) regarding the provision of Legal Aid and he did this in 2018. A PMM does not come off the Agenda until it is debated  and must have the signature of at least 100 (out of a total of 483) members of General Synod to be debated. Because there is only space for one or two PMMs at each Synod meeting it can take some time to be heard. Carl received his slot in February this year.

The purpose of the motion was to encourage the Church of England to position itself alongside other organisations who have campaigned for change or criticised the government’s refusal to consider reform to legal aid.  Bodies which have made a public stand against the Government include, among others, the Labour Party, Amnesty International, the United Nations, the Law Society, the Legal Action Group and the Equality and Human Rights Commission 

Carl said: “I really believe that the Church should have a position – and speak out - on this very important issue. I had to prepare a speech for Synod and thought very carefully about what I wanted to say. I wanted to make the point that the Christian faith spoke generously about the rule of law and that access to justice cannot be underestimated. I also said that I believed that this should be a priority for the Church.

“As it says in Mark 6 – people matter – but the new legal-aid rules if you cannot afford legal advice then it seems that you don’t matter as you will not be able to get the justice you deserve and is your right.”

The motion was carried by 218 votes and is noted as follows:

That this Synod, mindful that a justice system should be open and free from barriers of any kind, and also provide easy access to enable the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our society to seek professional help in bringing their claims before our courts and tribunals.

  1. Recognise our legal aid system as an essential public service and fully endorse its preservation for the benefit of the nation;
  2. (b) welcome the reports by Amnesty International and the Bach Commission about the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and note both their findings about its impact on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in our society and their recommendations for reform of the current system; and
  3. Call Her Majesty’s Government to respond positively to these reports and explore ways of alleviating the impact that the 2012 Act has had on these groups.

Now the motion has been carried the Mission and Public Affairs Council (which is part of General Synod) will pick up the issue and lobby government about the issue. It is not anticipated that there will be any changes soon but we will advise of any developments as they occur.