The history and impact of the cuts
Cuts to legal aid have obstructed access to justice with our government showing complete disregard for such fundamental rights by enacting the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, thereby impeding the availability of quality legal advice and representation for all in civil and criminal proceedings (1).
Legal aid funding in family, debt, education, employment, housing, immigration and welfare benefits cases has been vastly reduced and in some areas almost entirely removed (2). The legal aid cuts have exacerbated the effects of other public service cutbacks such as the benefits cap, cuts to disability allowance and the bedroom tax, as many people are unable to mount effective legal challenges to government decisions regarding these cuts without financial assistance.
The recent Public Accounts Committee report demonstrated the Ministry of Justice’s failure to collect sufficient evidence prior to pushing through cuts indiscriminately (3). In criminal law, legal aid fees have been slashed by 8.75% for solicitors and there are plans to bring in further cuts for both sides of the profession (4).
How can students fight to save legal aid and access to justice?
As students we can make our voices heard and spread the message about the devastating effects of the legal aid cuts by signing an open letter to Grayling, calling on him to repeal LASPO and introduce a meaningful consultation process to protect our justice system – Sign the letter now!.
The Government is staging a Global Law Summit (GLS) from 23rd – 25th February 2015 to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. It is being hypocritically presented as a celebration of founding principles and the rule of law, while the Government simultaneously dilutes state accountability and denies legal aid to those who need it most. The Justice Alliance has planned protests to challenge this farce. A three-day march will commence from Runnymede, the site of the signing of Magna Carta, on Saturday 21st February, culminating in a protest at Old Palace Yard (near the GLS venue) at 1pm on Monday 23rd February with speakers including actress Maxine Peake. You can join in at any stage of the march over the weekend, and come along to the rally. Full details of the event are available via the Justice Alliance website.
There will also be a student contingent at the demonstration at Old Palace Yard on 23rd February, meeting outside Westminster Abbey at 12:30pm. We urge you to join the student movement to challenge the government’s hypocrisy and demand an end to attacks on our justice system. Details of the contingent will be posted on Facebook.
(1) Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
(2) Low Commission Report, Legal Action Group.
(3) Public Accounts Committee Report on Young Legal Aid Lawyers website.
(4) “Legal aid contracts for on-call criminal solicitors to be slashed by two-thirds”, The Guardian, (27th November 2014).