More than 620,000 people, 80 per cent of whom are the most disadvantaged in society, have been denied access to justice because of the coalition’s so-called ‘reforms’ to the legal aid system, according to a new report which brands the changes a ‘false economy’.
‘Magna Carta today?’ written by Unite, the country’s largest union, and Goldsmiths, University of London outlines a seven point plan to give greater access to justice to the thousands of people hit by the government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO).
The report will be launched tomorrow (Wednesday 11 March) between 15.00-16.30 at the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, Westminster with speakers including shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan.
Despite LASPO taking account of women experiencing domestic violence, the report said: “Extremely vulnerable women are still being denied access to justice.”
(pictured Ruth Hayes of Unite the Union speaking at Runnymede at Justice Alliance event)
The report said the ‘reforms’ had been presented as a way of saving £350 million of public money on legal aid, but the reality has been very different, as costs have simply been shifted onto other parts of the public purse – but have turned out to be a false economy.
The report states: “These reforms have therefore been seriously counterproductive in financial terms, as well as fundamentally unjust.”
The ‘reforms’ had hit providers of legal aid, such as citizens’ advice bureaux and law centres, with closures and job losses.
The report said: “For every £1 spent on legal advice and aid, the state saves around £6 on other forms of spending, including spending as a result of families becoming homeless and children being taken into care.
“These ‘reforms’ have therefore been seriously counterproductive in financial terms, as well as being fundamentally unjust.”
Unite national officer for the not for profit sector Sally Kosky said: “If you are vulnerable, particularly if you are a woman who is more likely to deal with the impact of social welfare law, accessing the legal aid system has been greatly reduced.
“Justice secretary Chris Grayling should hang his head in shame at the coalition’s decision to pick on the most vulnerable in society for misguided cuts to legal aid. Denial of justice strikes at the very heart of creating a fair and equal society.
“This is a national disgrace and the launch of ‘Magna Carta today?’, harking back to the roots of the English justice system, presents a practical template to reverse these deplorable cuts and bring hope to hundreds of thousands of people across the country.”
The report supports using resources far more cost effectively, and meeting needs far more comprehensively than is currently the case.
It makes ambitious proposals that could all be achieved over the life of a new government with minimal costs overall, because of savings from other areas with providing legal aid to children and young people, and removing the barriers to victims of domestic violence being priority areas.
Recommendations in the short-term include:
• Providing legal aid to children and young people, and removing the barriers to victims of domestic violence
• Ensuring the use of any underspends to provide advice and legal aid as needed
• Providing interim stability for the sector by extending the Big Lottery advice service transition fund for an additional year, pending the development of the national strategy for the longer term
For the longer term:
• Developing a national strategy for advice and legal aid, bringing together local strategies, to ensure comprehensive and preventative approaches to the provision of advice and legal aid, together with public legal education
• Establishing backup with a 10-year national advice and legal support fund for England and Wales
Download a copy of ‘ Magna Carta today?’