The Supreme Court President took the unusual step of embarking on a series of media interviews last month. He spoke widely of the threat to the rule of law, arising from denying legal aid to over half a million people: “[P]eople will feel like the Government isn’t giving them access to justice in all sorts of cases,” he told the BBC. “And that will either lead to frustration and lack of confidence in the system, or it will lead to people taking the law into their own hands.”
Lord Neuberger added that the increase in litigants in person would lead to longer court hearings, with greater burdens on court staff and judges: “And you may find the savings the Government thinks it’s making in legal aid will be offset in other costs of courts and judges and court staff in supporting litigants in person,” a point also forcefully made by the Lord Chief Justice in his final annual evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee in February.
Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the Government has removed funding from private family cases (apart from those involving domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction); clinical negligence and personal injury; employment and education; as well as social welfare law, including benefits, housing, education and debt.
The Ministry of Justice, meanwhile, has thrown a lifelife to the Citizens Advice Bureau at the Royal Courts of Justice, which faced closure after Community Legal Service grants were cut. The Ministry will be providing £90,000 to support its family justice work from 1 April.