In 2013, legal aid was cut to many civil law cases with the aim of saving £350 million a year in England and Wales. These cuts have caused ‘serious difficulty’, however, to the justice system.
The government had intended to pilot early legal advice in some welfare cases and provide extra financial court but Baroness Hale of Richmond, retiring this month, said ‘I don’t think that anybody who has anything to do with the justice system of England and Wales could fail to be concerned about the problems which the reduction in resources in several directions has caused for the system as a whole.’
The outgoing President particularly highlighted the negative impact this has had in family courts. She stated that ‘It’s unreasonable to expect a husband and wife or mother and father who are in crisis in their personal relationship to make their own arrangements without help… [and] there may be an imbalance in resources because of the lack of access… it is that lack of initial advice and help which is a serious difficulty’. She also added that providing additional resources at an early stage ensures many disputes can be resolved without the need to go to court or to ‘stretch their finances’.
The Ministry of Justice has responded by claiming that the government is ‘piloting early legal advice in certain welfare cases [and has] committed £5 million for a Legal Support Innovation Fund to identify and resolve legal problems’.
The Criminal Bar Association is in agreement with Lady Hale, and last year advised its members to strike. The chair of the CBA, Angela Rafferty QC, said that the poor and vulnerable were ‘being denied access to justice’ due to this underfunding.