Recently retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Alan Ward used one of his final cases to condemn the government’s ‘emasculation’ of legal aid.
The judge raised the issue during a judgement issued in December on a dispute between two business partners who had run out of funds and were now representing themselves, the Law Society Gazette reports.
Lord Justice Ward claimed a surge in lawyerless litigants in person following the introduction of legal aid cuts next week would put such a strain on the court system that the government’s anticipated savings of £350 million a year would be lost.
“The expense of three judges of the Court of Appeal dealing with this kind of appeal is enormous. The consequences by way of delay of other appeals which need to be heard are unquantifiable. The appeal would certainly never have occurred if the litigants had been represented. With more and more self-represented litigants, this problem is not going to go away.”
‘It may be saving the Legal Services Commission which no longer offers legal aid for this kind of litigation, but saving expenditure in one public department in this instance simply increases it in the courts.”
The judge concluded:
“We may have to accept that we live in austere times, but as I come to the end of 18 years’ service in this court, I shall not refrain from expressing my conviction that justice will be ill served indeed by this emasculation of legal aid.”
Richard Miller is the head of legal at the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales. He echoed Lord Justice Ward’s comments:
“Legal aid cuts are likely to prove to be a false economy as well as undermining our justice system. The Court of Appeal has spelt this out very clearly in just one aspect – but there are many more examples of where new costs will be incurred as a result of these ill-conceived changes.
“The Law Society and many other respected organisations and individuals who understand the system have repeatedly warned the government that what they are doing is, put simply, a bad idea.”