A report by Amnesty International calls for an urgent review of funding restrictions that are leaving the most vulnerable without vital support.
Cuts to legal aid are far worse than anticipated and are creating a “two-tier” system which denies the poorest people access to justice, warns the critical report by Amnesty.
Temple Legal Protection supports the idea behind the government conducting an urgent review of the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act, which came into effect in 2013 and has severely restricted funding. A review was promised within three to five years but ministers have delayed.
The year before the act was introduced, legal aid was granted in 925,000 cases. The year after, assistance was given in 497,000 cases, a drop of 46%.
The report calls for all children to be granted entitlement to legal aid regardless of the issues at stake. Some teenagers, it says, are at risk of having to represent themselves in immigration cases where they may face deportation.
The report highlights the emergence of “advice deserts” across England and Wales where the provision of free legal advice is disappearing. Worst affected are said to be the south-west, parts of the Midlands and the north of England.
The Legal Aid Agency’s exceptional case funding system, which was supposed to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable claimants, is said to be inadequate and flawed.
Laspo has been blamed for a surge in the number of litigants in person, slowing court processes. Legal aid is no longer available in the family courts unless one partner can prove he or she was a victim of domestic violence.
Children are at an “automatic disadvantage as the laws processes and systems governing their circumstances are profoundly complex”, the report states. “They require specialist advisers that are experienced not just in immigration law, but also with working with children.”
One lawyer told Amnesty: “The idea that children and young people can represent themselves just does not work. This is such a vulnerable group. It’s not just that they don’t understand legal processes and legal concepts, which they don’t, but it’s also that they have no idea how to fill forms out properly, what to write, where to send paperwork, where to get advice and who to speak to.”
Alice Wyss, Amnesty International’s UK researcher, said: “Cuts to legal aid imposed by this government have decimated access to justice and left thousands of the most vulnerable without essential legal advice and support. We are in danger of creating a two-tier civil justice system, open to those who can afford it, but increasingly closed to the poorest and most in need of its protection.
“If Theresa May is really determined to deliver a country that works for all then there needs to be a justice system for everyone, not just those who can afford it. The government must start by protecting the most vulnerable and launching a review of this failing system immediately.”
With legal aid availability being stripped back each year, ATE insurance is of course another avenue that can be pursued for your clients. The suggestion to abolish the recoverability of the remaining ATE fees (in clinical negligence cases), is seen as another move by the government to block access to justice.
Temple Legal Protection remains committed to the cause for accessing justice. There are a range of products available to your law firm that enable this to happen. Please get in touch to find out which product is best for your firm and also for your client’s.
01483 577 877
Matthew Best Cert CII
Matt has an insurance background and joined Temple in 2011 having worked for 4 years in a leading insurance company where he was dealing with personal injury work. Matthew was promoted to Underwriting Manager and subsequently Senior Underwriting Manager taking on overall responsibility for Temple’s personal injury and clinical negligence underwriting department.
In 2022 Matt joined the board of directors as Director of ATE Partnerships. Matthew has cultivated fantastic relationships with our business partners for many years. His ability to build a clear understanding of their requirements and more importantly what is required to fulfil such requirements means he is ideally placed to support the strategic direction of the company.
Matt remains the head of the personal injury and clinical negligence department and is committed to all Temple’s business partners in order to deliver the highest level of service they expect. He is also responsible in making sure that Temple’s ATE and disbursement funding products remain competitive, but most importantly that they are fit for purpose for solicitors and their clients.
Read articles by Matthew Best Cert CII