Government plans to make further cuts to legal aid will encourage “injustice and miscarriages of justice”, the Family Justice Council has claimed.
In its official response to a recent government consultation on legal aid, the Council said the impact of the cuts introduced in April had yet to be fully assessed.
“Those changes already in place will inevitably result in a reduction in overall legal aid expenditure, as yet unevaluated and it is questionable whether further reduction will produce the overall savings sought. Additional changes to civil legal aid, will drastically reduce its availability to the youngest and most vulnerable in our society, risking injustice and miscarriages of justice which are likely to be wholly disproportionate to the money saved.”
The government consultation, entitled Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system, claims that:
“…against a backdrop of continuing financial pressure on public finances, we need to continue to bear down on public spending.”
The consultation proposes, amongst other measures, a ten per cent cut in the representation fees for solicitors working within legal aid family law cases, and a 20 per cent reduction in the fees available to expert witnesses. Such changes would, the government claims, “deliver savings of £220 million per year by 2018/19.”
But the Family Law Council does not accept that such cuts would be necessary, proportionate or in the interests of justice. It notes:
“The Family Justice Review in November 2011 highlighted that the supply of properly qualified and experienced lawyers is vital for the protection of children and to the efficient running of public law proceedings.”
The Family Justice Council is an independent public body providing expert advice on the operation of the family justice system in England and Wales.