Proposals for a set of minimum standards to ensure access to justice for all have prompted the Law Society to warn that the justice system is at breaking point and that civil legal aid cuts will ultimately cost tax payers more than they will save.
Responding to an interim report from the Bach Commission on Access to Justice, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: 'The right to British justice should apply to everyone who is subject to the laws of this country irrespective of background or income. This is sadly no longer the case.
'Successive governments have repeatedly cut the legal aid budget and the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) was expressly designed by government to restrict the availability of legal aid to a limited number of serious cases.
'There has been a drastic decrease in the numbers of people entitled to legal aid because of the scope of the cuts, yet there is also a growing dossier of evidence proving that legal aid changes have failed to meet the government's plans to reduce costs.'
In its submission to the commission during the Spring, the Law Society warned that civil legal aid cuts would result in an increase in costs to the tax payer. That is because when things go wrong in people's lives, they are not getting the expert legal advice they need - this can result in homelessness, family breakdown and health issues.
Early legal advice can help people sort out their problems and prevent them from having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts. This makes a real difference to them and also saves taxpayers' money.
Catherine Dixon added: 'This review provides a vital opportunity to consider the fundamental question of how to restore and protect access to justice for everyone in the 21st century, regardless of their background and economic circumstances.
'We agree with the Commission's initial recommendation that improving access to justice requires a broader approach to policy making. We look forward to seeing that its proposals relating to the reform and simplification of legal aid, support for specialist legal advice and innovation are in line with existing Law Society policies on access to justice.'
Notes to editors
The Bach Commission, hosted by the Fabian Society, is chaired by the shadow justice minister Lord Bach. The panel is amassing submissions from legal experts and is compiling evidence-based proposals on how to restore access to legal information, advice and representation.
The interim report found:
- there has been a huge decrease in the numbers entitled to legal aid because of the civil legal aid scope cuts
- the Exceptional Case Funding provisions have failed to deliver an adequate safety net for those most in need
- there has been a significant fall in the number of not-for-profit advice agencies, and public legal education is ineffective
- court and tribunal fee increases are preventing people from pursuing legal claims
- legal aid agency bureaucracy is excessive and the legal aid scheme is too complicated
- technological innovation in respect of justice provision lags considerably behind other jurisdictions in the developed world.
In February 2014 the government was criticised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Justice Committee for not fully considering the consequences of implementing LASPO.
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