The scope of legal aid, which has been a lifeline to many thousands of people since it was introduced, was vastly reduced with the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
The cost of legal aid had been running at just over £2bn each year, significantly higher than the European average of £97m. Despite very loud protests from the legal profession, at least £320m was cut from the budget – but this is a prime example of false economy.
Removing legal aid for a wide range of legal issues has meant that many, often vulnerable people have avoided taking early legal advice. Instead, they have delayed getting help until the situation escalated to the point where it could no longer be ignored; by which time it was much more serious and far more costly to resolve.
Law Society president, Christina Blacklaws, commented: “Without early advice, relatively minor legal problems can escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, placing additional pressure and cost on already stretched public services.
Anyone who can’t afford to pay for early legal advice may struggle to identify solutions, meaning simple issues spiral and can end up in court bringing unnecessary costs to the taxpayer.”
In the case of family law, which was severely hit by the cuts, the lack of legal aid for relationship breakdowns has resulted in a vast reduction in mediation referrals, which in turn has put pressure on the courts and the public purse.
The Law Society is calling for legal aid to be reinstated for early advice for housing and family cases. Christina added: “The benefits of early advice are clear. We are calling on the government to ensure justice is accessible to those who need it.”
Legal aid is still available in some cases for:
- Birth injury resulting in child disability
- Community care disputes
- Debt problems
- Education disputes
- Discrimination claims
- Criminal offences
- Asylum and immigration
- Mental health representation
- Welfare benefit appeals to higher courts
- Council tax reduction appeals to higher courts
If you have a legal issue and want to know if your circumstances are covered by legal aid, contact us on 01302 320621. More details can be found at www.gov.uk/civil-legal-advice or call 0345 345 4345