Thousands of families shut out from justice since Government cuts

3 October 2014

The Bar Council has warned that families across England & Wales have felt the full brunt of the Government's civil legal aid cuts, with a drop of 15,000 per quarter, equivalent to 60,000 a year, in the number of people receiving legal aid for family cases which go to court, and 40,000 per quarter, equivalent to 160,000 a year, in the number of people receiving advice on their family law problems.

The Ministry of Justice's own statistics for legal aid for Q2 2014 reveal that since cuts to civil legal aid came into effect in April 2013 under the Government's Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act the number of people receiving legal representation on legal aid plummeted from 40,090 in January-March 2013 to 23,149 in April-June 2014, with the bulk of the cuts hitting family law cases.

Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar, said:

"The quarterly legal aid statistics are a welcome contribution to a more transparent approach to the workings of legal aid. However, they also demonstrate the full impact of the cuts to civil legal aid, which is having a profound impact on the lives of many vulnerable people across England & Wales. We warned the Ministry of Justice that the cuts would mean that thousands of families would be denied access to justice and our prediction, sadly for those affected, has come true.

"The latest quarterly figures show that families facing serious issues, such as disputes concerning children, are effectively being shut out of the justice system.  The human consequences of cutting a huge part of family law out of legal aid are clearly being seen."

Earlier this month, the Bar Council report LASPO: One Year On, uncovered the impact the changes were already having on access to justice. The official legal aid statistics echo some of those findings, says the Bar Council.

"Overcutting" criminal justice

The latest legal aid statistics also show that there has already been a massive reduction in expenditure as a result of the combined effect of earlier cuts and the fall in crime.  As a result, the further cuts proposed last year to the fees paid to Crown Court advocates can clearly be seen to be unnecessary, as the Bar Council argued at the time.

Nicholas Lavender QC said: "Crime has fallen and so have criminal cases going to Court.  This means that the cost of legal aid has fallen.  Crown Court advocacy fees have already been cut by an average of 21% since 2007 (or 37% in real terms).  There is no need, and no scope, for any further cuts." 

Further commentary from the Bar Council on the legal aid statistics can be found here.

 

                                                             ENDS

Notes to Editors 

1. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.

2. The  Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad. 

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board