Review 'urgent and essential' after damning Justice Committee report on civil legal aid
The Law Society is backing the Justice Committee's call today for a review into changes made to civil legal aid in 2013.
Recent government cuts in eligibility for state-funded legal help have significantly impacted on some of the most vulnerable in our society. Those seeking legal help for most family and social welfare law cases such as divorce and ensuring contact with their children, claims where patients have been harmed by the NHS, employment, benefits and housing cases have been affected.
A Justice Committee report, published today, confirms that the government's policy failed to meet three out of its four objectives. According to the report, the government:
- failed to target legal aid to those who need it most;
- failed to discourage unnecessary litigation at public expense; and
- failed to show its changes were better value for money for the taxpayer.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: "We support the Justice Committee's call for an urgent review. The Law Society has consistently warned the government of the dangers of its civil legal aid policies. This report adds to the growing dossier of evidence proving that the legal aid changes have failed to meet the government's own objectives.
"There is no doubt that people are being denied access to justice. Recent research has shown that many domestic violence victims are being failed by the system as they face tough evidence requirements before they can even receive advice and assistance under the legal aid scheme. This goes far beyond what Parliament ever intended."
The report highlights that even for cases where Parliament intended that legal aid should be available, the system is not working, and people are being denied the help they need. This is having a significant knock-on cost for the public purse, as well as a devastating personal impact on people who cannot get help.
Andrew Caplen continued: "Earlier this week, access to justice was further restricted when court fee increases of more than 600 per cent were introduced. They will have a devastating effect on small and medium-sized businesses, which use the courts to recover unpaid invoices, often from larger businesses. Courts should not be turned into profit centres while SMEs, which employ 14 million people and contribute billions to the economy, are left in financial trouble because they cannot afford to pursue debts lawfully due to them.
"The Ministry of Justice need to pause and consider the impact of its policies on access to justice, the taxpayer and the wider economy."