Legal aid cuts, the aftermath

16 November 2010 by

Updated | The legal community has been digesting yesterday’s announcement of government plans for legal aid to be reduced by around £350 per year from 2014-15.

Most commentators and legal professionals are worried that less money for legal representation will lead to less access to justice for the poorer members of society. But some have also expressed relief that the criminal legal aid scheme has been left largely untouched, as have funding for inquests, judicial reviews and asylum cases.

For those who have a view on the reforms, the Ministry of Justice has an online questionnaire which can be filled in here.

Nicholas Green QC (Chairman of the Bar of England and Wales: “A permanent contraction of justice cannot be justified by the “big society” or by any sort of philosophical mantra. Ultimately an efficient justice system is fundamental to the wellbeing of the country. We only have to look at our television screen at events unfolding in Burma and elsewhere to see the undeniable truth of that proposition.”

Law Society – Access to justice must be available for all (solicitors’ representative body): “If the Government persists with these proposals it would represent a sharp break from the long-standing bipartisan consensus that effective access to justice is essential to underpin the rule of law… Legal aid clients are some of the most vulnerable in society and good legal representation where required is essential if they are to obtain justice.”

Legal aid cuts: surprise exceptions take out the sting, Alan Travis, “The surprises rather lay in the parts of the legal aid budget that he had decided to protect. No cuts in asylum cases. No cuts in help for judicial review cases that have proved such an irritant to ministers of all governments. The deep cut in private family cases where more than 80% will be affected will not include those involving domestic violence, forced marriages or where children are at risk of being taken into care.”

David Allison, chair of Resolution (family law solicitors association): “Families need legal aid for a whole range of reasons. Suggesting, as these proposals do, that couples in dispute about contact arrangements for children or financial issues are simply wasting taxpayers’ money by unnecessary squabbling ignores the reality that 90% of couples already reach agreement outside of court. Those that do need legal aid usually do so for good reason – intimidation by one partner over another, or an imbalance of financial power in the relationship…”

Nearly Legal (housing law blog): “It is a good thing that homelessness and possession have, to some extent at least, been recognised as priority concerns, and one would hope that some obvious idiocies like phone only access will get lost in the wash, but this is going to present some very large problems. I hate to have to roll out the ‘access to justice’ line once more, but someone hasn’t done their market modelling in thinking this through.”

Charon QC, Law review: Justice bloodied… and probably bowed “I am concerned that Ken Clarke’s announcement today on legal aid and justice will have a significant impact on the rights of a great many in this country and impact directly on the enjoyment of life for many who simply cannot afford legal advice and representation.”

Guardian editorial, Public Spending: Banned aid: “Mr Clarke’s sensible decision to continue to give legal aid in inquests, in asylum cases and in judicial reviews, to discover that the speed and severity of the cuts announced yesterday will once again disproportionately hurt the poorest and most vulnerable. This was an exercise in cutting a budget, not rebalancing the way the state supports access to justice.”

Afua Hirsch, The worst day ever for legal aid: “So if you believe you have suffered an injustice at the hands of the civil system – maybe because your child cannot get the support they deserve at school for their special needs, or because you have been unfairly sacked from your job – if you need legal help and can’t get it, just console yourself with the knowledge that, if the Tories are to be believed, your suffering is making the world a better place.”

Telegraph editorial. Legal Aid reform is controversial but necessary: “The reaction from the legal profession will be hysterical. The livelihoods of thousands of lawyers will be affected, and ministers can expect a deluge of criticism that the reforms “deny justice” to millions of deserving people. That is the line that has been used to counter every previous attempt to reform the system – and it has been successful partly because it is not without some merit. It is inevitable that, in tightening up eligibility, and in denying legal aid in civil litigation, people who would have brought cases will now be unable to do so.”

Update, 16 November: The Pink Tape blog is posting separately on the family law aspects of the cuts. First up is domestic violence (update – the second post, on mediation, is here): “On the one hand these proposals look to me as if they will not greatly reduce the number of cases which fall within scope – the bulk will probably tick one box or other. But they will encourage more applications for non-molestation orders, which alleged perpetrators are almost never funded for, they will encourage the seeking of orders and rejection of undertakings, and they will potentially leave a significant minority of victims of domestic violence faced with responding to children proceedings alone and without legal advice or representation. And whilst there will be more administrative costs associated with more complex scope arrangements, I am not sure that as currently set out in the green paper these provisions will be subtle enough to satisfactorily protect all those at risk.”

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