Legal aid is a basic human right
Access to justice is a fundamental human right and access to legal aid helps ensure that justice is not the preserve of the wealthy. Legal aid has benefited victims of domestic violence, children who need a roof over their heads and victims of miscarriages of justice.
The real cost of cuts and reforms to legal aid
As part of their ideologically driven agenda to cut public spending, the government is cutting £220m per year from the legal aid budget until 2018.
In 2009-10, more than 470,000 people received advice or assistance for social welfare issues. By 2013-14, the year after the government’s reforms to legal aid came into force, that number had fallen to less than 53,000 – a drop of nearly 90%.
In February 2015 the Public Accounts Committee reported that there had been a 30% increase in the number of cases starting in family courts in which both parties were representing themselves.
As more and more people find themselves in court without being able to afford the professional representation of a lawyer, court staff are noticing that proceedings are taking more time. With cases becoming increasingly chaotic and prolonged it is likely to be costing the taxpayer more than it was before the cuts.
Potential litigants are being driven away from the courts because they simply cannot afford it, many of whom are vulnerable people the system is supposed to protect. Victims of domestic abuse for example can only get access to legal aid if they have written proof, which comes at a financial cost, for example £50 for a GP’s letter.
The Exceptional Case Fund which was established to help people such as domestic violence victims get free lawyers, received 617 applications from April to December 2013 but only eight were granted. Statistics for April to June in 2015 show that only five out of 125 applications were successful.
Victims who are not able to prove eligibility for legal aid and do go to court are facing cross examination by the perpetrator, a continuation of the abuse.
Trade union members, along with charities and other voices from across the justice sector, are calling for the cuts to legal aid to be reversed to protect access to justice.