Bar Council response to Justice Committee report on Legal Aid

12 March 2015

JUSTICE COMMITTEE LEGAL AID REPORT: BAR COUNCIL RESPONSE

Responding to today's report from the Justice Committee, Alistair MacDonald QC, Chairman of the Bar said:

"We have reached a watershed moment in the administration of justice.

"The contents of this report were, unfortunately, entirely predictable. The findings and recommendations come as no surprise to any professional giving legal advice to vulnerable people.

"Everyone involved in the administration of justice must now work towards the common goals of protecting access to justice for the most vulnerable, and making sure we get value for money."

Ministry of Justice figures show that since LASPO was implemented over 400,000[1] vulnerable people a year are now no longer accessing legal help for benefits, debt advice, or for problems with housing, family or employment.

The number of people receiving legal advice for family issues has fallen by 78%, on social welfare by 80%, and for debt by 98%. Employment and Welfare benefit advice fell to less than 1% of what they were previously.[2]

As the Justice Committee's report notes: "We are not persuaded by the Minister's contention that people may not be accessing legal aid because they are getting all the legal advice they need from law centres and citizens advice bureaux."

Today's are just the latest high profile criticisms of the devastating cuts wrought by LASPO. Recent reports by the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office came to the same basic conclusions: the cuts hurt vulnerable people most, they will not deliver the savings envisaged, they have resulted in knock-on costs to other departments, and they damage our system of justice.

Alistair MacDonald QC, Chairman of the Bar said: "It is tempting in these financially straightened times, to treat justice like any other public service. But it is not like any other public service. The justice system underpins the principles of liberty and democracy, the rule of law, and our human rights and fundamental freedoms. Damage one and you damage all.

"We need a commitment from all parties to approach justice differently.

"As the Justice Committee points out, when making cuts to access to justice, proper impact assessments are needed to ensure that the most vulnerable do not suffer most and costs are not simply moved to other parts of a department or different departments altogether."

Ends

Notes to editors

 1. Since the introduction of LASPO:

  • Litigants in person have increased in number by 30%, with no proper measures in place to support them

  • Mediation cases have fallen by 38% instead of increasing by 74% as predicted by the Ministry of Justice

  • Advice deserts have grown

  • Cuts in front line advice services mean legal problems become more complex and place greater burdens on courts

  • victims of domestic violence have found themselves forced to pay money to get the evidence they need to access legal aid, and

  • The exceptional case funding mechanism, designed to act as a safety net to help between 5,000 and 7,000 people taken out of eligibility for legal aid, has only funded 69 applications out of the 1,520 made

 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.

3. For further information contact the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 or Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.



[1] Legal Aid Statistics: main tables July 2014 - September 2014: Table 5:1 Legal help matters started for 2000-01 to 2013-14, with quarterly data for Jul-Sep 2011 to  Jul-Sep 2014 (Comparing total legal help matters started April 2012 to March 2013 with April 2013 to March 2014).

[2] Ibid (comparing January to March 2013 with July to September 2014).