You may have heard a lot spoken in the news recently about possible cuts to legal aid – the government’s funding for individuals and families who can’t afford legal advice and representation when they need it. Whether you’re in need of legal aid, may benefit from it in the future or have needed assistance in the past, these cuts could affect you quite considerably and are set to change the landscape of the British legal system dramatically.
What is legal aid?
To understand how cuts to legal aid may affect you, firstly it’s key to understand what legal aid in this country is, how it currently operates and ultimately how it helps people. Legal aid is a term used to describe government funded grants and payments given to individuals who cannot afford legal advice or representation through legal proceedings in a court or tribunal. It previously covered many different types of legal claims and difficulties, from family law mediation and domestic violence prosecution cases to criminal defence and discrimination charges. To qualify for receipt of legal aid, you need to prove that the case you are bringing is serious and warranted, that you cannot afford to fund it yourself, and that your case is eligible in accordance with a number of guidelines. Legal aid was put in place to prevent those without the money to invest in vital legal proceedings from being unable to achieve justice because they can’t afford proper representation.
What will happen under the proposed cuts?
Several years ago, the government announced that savage cuts were on the horizon for the legal aid system (despite a consistent fall in government spending in this area in previous years); and in April 2013 the first part of this action was implemented, meaning that it was more difficult for certain groups of people to access legal aid. For example, victims of domestic violence now need medical proof of their injury to qualify for aid, and funding for family law is no longer available. A full reform will essentially mean that the amount your legal fees are subsidised by will decrease or may be completely unavailable for you depending on your circumstance – considerably reducing the prospect of obtaining representation for many groups of people. For many lawyers and solicitors this new system is worrisome, not least because it inevitably impacts on the most vulnerable people in society and could stand in the way of justice for many who are now unable to obtain legal funding. It could also lead to rise in people representing themselves, which could have delaying and confusing consequences for the court system.
Can we fight cuts to legal aid?
If you’re concerned about the potential damage which cuts to legal aid could cause and issues which may arise for you and your family as a consequence, then you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in very good company – joined by many of the country’s top judges, barristers and law firms who are condemning the reforms which have already been made, in addition to strongly advising against further reductions in the provision of legal aid.
Legal and medical professionals, along with human rights activists, continue to fight the proposed further cuts and still hope to reverse some of the policies which have already been implemented. An open letter to the new Conservative government signed by over one hundred judges, lawyers and doctors was submitted earlier this month asking them to reconsider the reform to restore democracy, fight inequality and protect those who are most vulnerable in society. Charities and campaign groups are especially concerned about the implications for women and men who have been victims of domestic violence, as figures show that over a third are unable to prove their injuries under the new rules.
Want to know more?
The legal aid issue is something which we are very passionate about at Gray and Co – so please continue to follow the blog for updates and more information.