Civil Legal Aid Cuts: Prudent Public Finance or Carte Blanche for Cheats?
Yesterday my friend Anna Barry posted comments about the complexity and length of time it takes to bring a civil case to resolution through the courts (see Mediation versus County Court https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6544531959425626113 )
Further to this, I was discussing legal aid cuts with a lawyer (don’t ask..) and their impact on civil justice. Just for background, Legal Aid budgets came under attack by the Blair government, with Jack Straw coining the facile populist expression ‘fat cat lawyers’ as the rationale. Subsequent governments continued to squeeze legal aid, culminating in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Prosecution of Offenders Act 2012 (RASPO). The net result is that legal aid is all but unavailable to most people for civil cases, and when it is available it is subject to strict means testing. In the quarter June – September 2018 - the last period for which Legal Aid Agency stats are available - Legal Aid totalling £3,000,000 was made available to a mere 10,000 civil cases (excluding family, mental health and education). In the same period, the Ministry of Justice stats show that over half a million new civil cases were opened.
My concern, which I will be researching further, is that the draconian cuts which make civil justice inaccessible to large swathes of the community are feeding dishonest and corrupt practice by cheats who feel free to exploit vulnerable people with a complete sense of impunity. This is just wrong.
The Law Society Gazette published a hard-hitting analysis of the impact of legal aid cuts on civil justice (Picking Up the Pieces) on 9 June. Well worth a read: