Bar Council launches booklet on Legal Aid

THE Bar Council has published a booklet marking the 60th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949. The booklet, Legal Aid: 60 Years of Public Service by Barristers, was launched at the Chairman of the Bar’s Media Reception at Middle Temple, and sets out the history of legal aid since 1949. It describes how barristers funded by legal aid have acted for some of society’s most vulnerable over the past 60 years.

The booklet emphasises the crucial role legal aid plays in providing a fair and effective justice system, by highlighting a number of case studies in criminal, family and civil law. The studies show how public funding of legal representation by barristers has made a real difference to people’s lives and helped to develop the law. The Bar Council’s booklet is published as the publicly-funded Bar is coming under increasing strain with the prospect of further cuts by the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission (LSC). Proposals to introduce Best Value Tendering (BVT), which are not based on any reliable empirical or economic evidence, will inevitably drive down quality. With many experienced advocates already leaving publicly-funded practice because they cannot afford to stay at the Bar, the impact of successive legal aid cuts on an effective justice system is likely to result in increased, not decreased, public expenditure.

Desmond Browne QC, the Chairman of the Bar, said: “The booklet paints a very moving picture of how legal aid has changed the lives of those going through the justice system since 1949. Continuous unnecessary cuts to legal aid are doing huge damage to a system which provides a cost-effective service to those who need it most. Recent cuts to family legal aid, which will result in a poorer service to vulnerable children and families, are just one example of the LSC’s mishandling of the reform of legal aid in England and Wales. This is likely to have serious consequences for those who are caught up in legal proceedings at a very difficult time in their lives. The Bar has consistently supported reform of the administration of legal aid, but it must be evidence-based and properly assessed for its impact. Arbitrary cuts will cost the taxpayer more in the long-term and may lead to miscarriages of justice. The public interest in providing proper funding for specialist advocacy remains as important today as it was in 1949 when the Legal Aid and Advice Act became law. Alongside healthcare and education, legal aid is one of the three main pillars of the welfare state. It deserves to be supported and not undermined in the name of supposed efficiency savings.”