Cuts in legal aid are a false economy, and have in fact increased court costs, according to an organisation representing senior judges.
The Judicial Executive Board questioned the economy of the cuts in a written submission to the Commons Justice Select Committee, which is investigating the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). Changes included significant cuts to legal aid provision.
The Judicial Executive Committee’s submission states:
“The apparent saving of cost by a reduction in the legal aid budget needs to be viewed in context: often it simply leads to increased cost elsewhere in the court system as, for example, anecdotally, cases take longer.”
The cuts have also led to a significant surge in the number of unrepresented individuals – ‘litigants in person’ – appearing in court, the judges note.
“In the courts, since LASPO came into force, there has been a large increase in the number of cases where one or both parties do not have legal representation – most prominently in private law family litigation. Where legal aid has been removed and individuals have become self-represented, the adverse impact upon courts’ administration and efficiency has therefore been considerable.”
Meanwhile, there has also been a drop in the number of cases resolved through mediation, the submission states, straining the resources of courts and tribunals.
“The absence of funding for crucial experts’ reports in private law family work in particular has had significant consequences. The judiciary’s experience is that the absence of pre-proceedings advice in the tribunals’ jurisdictions has resulted in an increase in unmeritorious claims and, almost certainly, some meritorious cases never being brought.”