Legal aid chaos
A Guardian editorial offered the paper’s view on legal aid.
‘Barristers and solicitors protesting about cuts don’t attract the same level of public support as doctors and nurses,’ it began. ‘What goes on in the courts is not widely understood, and most people do not expect to need a publicly funded lawyer in the way that they rely on hospitals. Nevertheless, access to justice is a fundamental democratic right, and the chaos and failure unfolding across the legal system as the result of cuts should concern everyone who cares about justice.’
‘Legal aid began in the UK in the 1940s with the rest of the welfare state. In the US, a defendant’s entitlement to a lawyer in a criminal case is enshrined in an amendment to the constitution. While the rules in the UK may lack this constitutional underpinning, people are still entitled to access to justice – including lawyers paid for with legal aid.’
‘Ray of light for the justice system’
At the start of the month the High Court quashed regulations implementing changes to the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme – a ‘ray of light for the justice system‘, according to the Law Society. ‘We have consistently warned that this fragile criminal legal aid market cannot stand further cuts,’ commented the Society’s president Christina Blacklaws.
Chancery Lane reckoned the verdict was important ‘because evidence-dense cases are becoming the norm due to the prevalence of digital devices’. ‘Defence solicitors have faced earning up to 37% less for some large cases, yet the Legal Aid Agency has expected them to undertake precisely the same amount of work,’ Blacklaws said.
According to Chancery Lane, the High Court ‘strongly criticised some of the arguments put forward by the Lord Chancellor’. ‘It is difficult to express in language of appropriate moderation why we consider these arguments without merit. The first point, which should not need to be made but evidently does, is that consultees are entitled to expect a government ministry undertaking a consultation exercise will conduct it in a way which is open and transparent.’
The court ruled the MoJ’s failure to disclose the statistical analysis underpinning the decision made the consultation unfair. Lord Justice Leggatt and Mrs Justice Carr DBE observed that the MoJ’s reasoning was ‘a flawed analysis on which no reasonable authority would have relied’.
‘In the light of this ruling, we would urge the government to restart discussions to try to formulate a revised approach to the LGFS that will remunerate lawyers fairly for the work they have to do.’
People with ‘stretched’ finances who still do not qualify for legal aid are the least likely to instruct lawyers when faced with legal problems, according to the Legal Services Board – as reported in the Times’ Brief.
According to the Times, the LSB said that that the LASPO cuts had caused ‘a significant fall in the number of family private law proceedings and domestic violence cases where both parties were represented in court by lawyers. There was also widespread confusion among the public over which types of legal dispute still qualified for state funding.’
The board reckoned that there was a ‘statistical link’ between the provision of early legal advice and the quick resolution of disputes. ‘At any stage in dealing with a legal issue,’ the board said, ‘people who did not receive early advice were 20 per cent less likely than average to have their issue resolved.’
‘Affordability of legal services is a key concern for people with mental health problems and their carers and consumers with learning disabilities,’ the board said in its submission to the MoJ. ‘Changes in legal aid could therefore have a particular impact for such vulnerable consumers.’
‘How legal aid cuts left me and family in meltdown,’ blogged ‘Ian’ for the charity Mind’s website here.
After the council withdrew his housing benefit, Ian wrote about his experience of battling legal issues without the help of legal aid. ‘The stress of it all caused my own mental health to fall to a desperate level,’ Ian recalled. ‘In the end I had a breakdown the night before the hearing, I became catatonic and I did not know how I could manage to go. Fortunately a family friend came and got me up, drove me to the hearing and supported me, but I still shook from head to toe throughout the process.’
Pro bono job opportunity
Hogan Lovells are looking for a pro bono associate. Candidates must be ‘qualified lawyers and will ideally have experience of family law, social welfare law and the legal aid system. An understanding of the role of pro bono, refugee law or experience in a corporate setting is also desirable’.
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