Legal aid concerns

Profession

Barristers, clerks and practice managers considered the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill at the Bar Council Contracting Conference, in London, earlier this month.

Conference sessions explained how the Bar may contract for work, and covered ProcureCos, Direct Access, Legal Services Commission Contracts and local authority contracting.

Prior to the Bill’s second reading in the Commons, the Bar Council sent MPs a briefing note outlining its concerns. These included:
  • The government has ignored thousands of responses to its consultation, for example, only three per cent of respondents supported the proposals to abolish legal aid for private family law cases.
  • Many people will be unable to enforce their rights, or will have to represent themselves in court.
  • Litigants in person will cause delays in court and increase costs, a concern which has also been expressed by the Judges’ Council of England and Wales.
  • The proposal to abolish the recoverability of success fees means claimants will effectively receive lower damages. This may have an impact on funding of smaller cases, and at a time when legal aid is also being removed.

Peter Lodder QC said: “A cut-price, DIY justice system, which will actually end up costing more money, rather than saving it, is in no one’s interests.”


Lady Hale speaks up

Lady Hale, Justice of the Supreme Court, has warned the proposed legal aid cuts will have a “disproportionate impact upon the poorest and most vulnerable in society”.

Giving the Sir Henry Hodge Memorial Lecture at the Law Society in June, on ‘Equal Access to Justice in the Big Society’, she said: “Indeed, the government’s own equality impact statement accepts that they will have a disproportionate impact upon women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities”.

She said she supported the use of mediation where appropriate, but was opposed to making it compulsory. There was “scope for the strong to bully the weak,” she said, and “the whole idea that ‘litigation is bad and ADR is good’” was “damaging to the image and resourcing of the courts and ultimately to the importance of providing everyone with equal access to justice”.
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