The Law Society has published a devastating critique of LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012), which slashed civil and family legal aid.
In a report published this week, Access denied? LASPO four years on
, the Law Society concludes that the legislation, which came into force in April 2013, has denied access to justice to society’s most vulnerable, hit the public purse and damaged the foundation of the justice system.
The report focuses on the impact of the cuts on the ability of citizens to defend and enforce their legal rights. It suggests LASPO increased pressure not just on the courts but on wider public services as legal problems escalated in the absence of legal aid for early advice. LASPO aimed to cut legal aid spending by £450m.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said hundreds of thousands of people eligible for legal aid one day became ineligible the very next, but it was a ‘false economy’.
‘Access to justice should be treated as an essential public service—equal to healthcare or education,’ he said. ‘Early legal advice can help people sort out their problems and prevent them from having to rely on welfare support or involve the courts. This makes a real difference to them but also saves taxpayers money.
Failure to get early expert legal advice can result in problems escalating dramatically, when they could have been nipped in the bud. The cuts have led to many people facing court unrepresented, in cases where lawyers would have resolved the issues without involving the court, via mediation or negotiation.’
Bourns referred to reports that tenants of Grenfell Tower were unable to access legal aid to challenge safety concerns about the building. If true, he said, ‘then we may have a very stark example of what limiting legal aid can mean’.This article was originally published on New Law Journal