Legal aid cuts deny justice to vulnerable, Law Society says

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Jun 29, 2017
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Robert Bourns, president of the Law Society, urged the government to move forward with a review of legislation

Times photographer Richard Pohle

Legal aid spending cuts over the last four years have denied justice to the most vulnerable in society, solicitor leaders argue in a report released this morning.

Ministers were accused of making a “false economy” by slashing the legal aid budget as lawyers said that early legal advice could resolve problems and prevent people from ultimately having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts. The report from the Law Society, which represents 130,000 solicitors in England and Wales, claims that taxpayers would save money if larger amounts of legal aid funding was available.

The society’s analysis was based on its report into the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The act brought in significant cuts to the scope of civil legal aid with the aim of cutting expenditure by £450 million. According to the Law Society, “the demographics of legal aid recipients prior to 2012 clearly indicate these cuts have fallen disproportionately on the most economically deprived and vulnerable members of society”.

The organisation highlighted that some housing cases were no longer eligible for legal aid, meaning that “people now have a stark choice: to pay for their own legal advice, represent themselves, or be excluded from the justice system altogether”.

Robert Bourns, president of the society, reminded ministers that the previous government had planned a post-implementation review of the legislation before the general election earlier this month. “We hope that the new government will be able to commit to continue with this,” he said.

Legal aid red tape snares lawyers

Completing an application for civil legal aid takes longer than 90 minutes on average, according to more than 40 per cent of lawyers who contributed to an online survey. More than 70 per cent of lawyers who responded to the survey posted by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers group said that completing a form took longer than an hour. Fewer than 10 per cent of the those responding said the task could be completed in less than half an hour.

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