Cuts to legal aid are causing a crisis in our justice system, say MPs

A march to save legal aid
Support us and go ad-free

A new report by the Justice Committee within the House of Commons has shone a spotlight on legal aid. It shows how under-funding is restricting access to competent legal representation. In a statement, Justice Committee chair Bob Neill MP offered a damning indictment of the current state of our justice system. He called on the government to act, saying:

The Government cannot kick these problems down the road any longer and they must carry out comprehensive reviews to develop policies that are sustainable in the long term…

Under-funding of the criminal justice system in England and Wales threatens its effectiveness, tarnishing the reputation of our justice system as a whole, and undermining the rule of law.

These reviews should be carried out with urgency to end the crisis we are currently facing.

Background to the report

The Justice Committee published this report in response to a separate inquiry. This had uncovered that legal aid funding was insufficient in allowing defence lawyers to review the evidence for their cases fully. Those on legal aid thus received an inadequate legal defence. In its conclusion, the current report recommends “a comprehensive and independent review of criminal legal aid… with the aim of devising a scheme that is sustainable and user-focused”. The report also recommends that this review is launched no later than March 2019 and concluded within 12 months.

The impact of severe austerity measures under the Conservative government has been undeniable and far-reaching, with cuts to funding prompting strikes by lawyers in March of this year. While the current report may call for urgency on the part of the government, NGOs, university researchers and lawyers themselves have repeatedly raised the issue of the most vulnerable people being denied their right to competent legal representation.

Who’s affected the most?

A report [pdf] published by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at the University of Warwick in April 2013 outlined the impact of funding cuts and changes to legal aid legislation on lawyers and their clients. A more recent report by Amnesty International, aptly named Cuts that Hurt, addressed similar issues. The report examined the human rights implications of cuts to legal aid. In particular, it addressed the impact on migrants and refugees, homeless people, domestic violence survivors, and children and young people.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

In December 2017, in an article for the Guardian entitled The cruelty of legal aid cuts for abused women is now undeniable, Deborah Orr described how domestic abuse survivors are having to represent themselves in legal proceedings. Representing themselves not only causes these women additional delays and expense, but can also cause additional trauma. They are forced to face their abuser and once again be exposed to their manipulation in court. Orr makes a compassionate case for why third-party representation, and access to a competent defence via legal aid, is the right of all domestic abuse victims.

This is just one example where drastic cuts to legal aid since 2012 have disproportionately affected vulnerable groups. Children, young people, people with physical and mental illnesses or disabilities, and poor people are all suffering because they were denied their right to adequate legal representation. If everyone is equal under the law, it’s time the government acted to ensure everyone is equally represented, too.

Get Involved!

Read The Canary’s other articles on legal aid.

Support The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.

Write to your MP, asking them to support an independent review of legal aid.

Featured image via Flickr – PictureCapital

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed