People left unable to defend their rights following legal aid cuts, report claims12 October 2017
The Bach Commission has called for changes, including a simpler and more generous legal aid scheme
The justice system is ‘in crisis’, with people being denied access to justice because of ‘dramatic’ reductions in the scope of legal aid and ‘excessively stringent’ eligibility requirements, a new report has found.
The Bach Commission on Access to Justice, published by the Fabian Society and chaired by Labour former justice minister Lord Bach, is calling for a new Right to Justice Act that supplements people’s existing rights and ensures people can receive ‘reasonable legal assistance’, without unaffordable costs. It also recommends the introduction of a ‘significantly simpler and more generous’ legal aid scheme.
The recommendations follow nearly two years of research, in which the commission – established by the Labour party - heard from more than 100 people and organisations with expertise spanning the justice system. It found widespread and varied problems across the system including, but not limited to, a lack of public legal education, shrinking access to information and advice, and cumbersome bureaucracy.
Government figures obtained recently by Labour suggest that the number of legal aid providers in England and Wales has fallen by 20 per cent, from 2,991 legal providers to 2,393 - leaving many without access to important legal support.
Tom Jones, head of policy at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “This is an honest assessment of the dire state of our current legal system and its failure to deliver - after years of open and hidden cuts - for those who most need its help.
"At Thompsons, we believe any political party that tries to impede access to justice, whatever cover they use, should be exposed and condemned for doing so."
“The Conservatives’ willingness to sacrifice fairness and their apparent contempt for the principle of access to justice was heavily criticised by the U.K.'s highest Court with regard to Employment Tribunal fees. Yet the threat on both fronts remains in personal injury, as the Conservatives plan to deliver to the insurance industry everything they want by increasing the small claims limit beyond what inflation would justify, and at a cost to the taxpayer whilst boosting insurers’ profits.”