Vulnerable still 'reeling' from LASPO

14 October 2015

Vulnerable people are still reeling from the impact of Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the Chairman of the Bar warns MPs, ahead of tomorrow's Commons debate.

Alistair MacDonald QC said:"People who cannot afford legal advice and representation are often among the most vulnerable in society and they are still reeling from the impact of LASPO.

"This debate is an important reminder of the sheer volume of people for whom justice remains out of reach."

The Bar Council briefing to MPs ahead of today's debate reminds them that:

  • There are 18,000 cases a year in which the equivalent of 37,000 men and women try to navigate complex legal problems, often involving their children, without legal advice
  • There are 400,000 fewer legal aid 'matter starts' per year than before LASPO was enacted
  • Between April 2014 and March 2015, only 214 applications to the exceptional case funding scheme were granted, and
  • Cases involving litigants in person create delays, result in more appeals and increase the risks of injustice, especially in cases involving vulnerable children.

Alistair MacDonald QC said:"We spoke with MPs over the party conference season who said they regularly see people at their constituency surgeries facing legal problems made intractable because no legal aid, advice or assistance is available.

"I have also spoken to a number of people who have received assistance from the Bar Pro Bono Unit.  Without exception, they said that attempting to find their way through their cases without assistance placed them and their families under great strain.  When they did receive advice and help, their lives were transformed.  Those who have restricted the scope and availability of legal aid pay insufficient attention to the human costs to litigants and their families caused by such deprivation, particularly when they are often feeling very vulnerable."

"We live in difficult economic times, but we must not forget that the provision of legal aid is an essential component of a fair and just society. It is only right that those who are among the most vulnerable in society have access to proper legal advice and representation.

"Our concerns about access to civil justice have been reinforced by significant increases in court fees, recently introduced in civil cases, which are over and above the direct cost of providing court services. For people of even moderate means, the path to justice is becoming too steep to tread."

The Bar Council continues to urge the Government to:

  • Provide advice and representation to the most vulnerable on areas of law for which legal aid is no longer available

  • Ensure that those who remain eligible for legal aid know their entitlement

  • Simplify and widen the exceptional case funding scheme

  • Monitor the impact of litigants in person on the courts

  • Monitor the effect of deprivation of legal aid on litigants obliged to conduct their cases in person, and

  • Carry out adequate research into the legal aid system and reassess the cuts that have been made.

 The Bar Council's briefing to MPs is available here.

ENDS

Notes to Editors 

1. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 andPress@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.

3. 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