Legal Aid Cuts on BBC Radio Humberside

News|July 1st 2014

Earlier today I appeared on the Lizzie and Carl breakfast show on BBC Radio Humberside to discuss the legal aid cuts.

I did not sugarcoat my opinion. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling needs kicking out of office. He has overseen the dismantling of a system which allowed anyone to seek justice. It is an utter disgrace.

I explained that when I started my career as a divorce lawyer over 30 years ago, legal aid was not an issue.

Everyone had access to the courts. If you were rich, you paid for legal representation. If you were poor, you qualified for legal aid. If you were somewhere in the middle, legal aid was often available with a contribution.

Over the years, legal aid has been steadily eroded. On 1st April 2013 it was all but abolished for private family law cases.

Despite the drastic cuts, there are still certain circumstances where help is available. Unfortunately, the bar is set so high that qualifying for it is extremely difficult. For example, if domestic violence is involved, and you can prove it, then you may qualify.

The argument that the legal aid cuts were done because of exorbitant fees for solicitors and barristers is utter rubbish. There is a significant gulf between the fees for private lawyers and those who work for legal aid cases.

I stopped doing legal aid cases back in 1990 because the fees were not enough to keep a firm profitable, but there would be many dedicated legal professionals eager to represent those who need it despite the low rate of pay.

The cuts are a false economy. We are told they were implemented to save money, but what it has produced is a growing number of people representing themselves.

These people, called ‘litigants in person’, do not know what they are doing. They have no legal training or qualifications and they often need judges to help them through the cases. As a result cases are taking much longer and the courts are clogged up.

Legal aid can work. It can be done in a cost effective way, but this government is not interested in making it work. They made a decision that legal aid had to go, regardless of the consequences, and that’s what they have done.

You can listen to my full segment here, starting at 1:09:40. It will be available for the next few days.

Author: Marilyn Stowe

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

Comments(10)

  1. Skeptic says:

    The single parent charities advise going to your doctor and inventing something, like he is controlling, or whatever. Voila, proof. Currently. That’s the ticket for legal aid. Nothing could be simpler. The industry of injustice knows that men don’t do such things, because they would be laughed at. So in providing even more incentive for higher conflict, we’ve also made things less fair than they used to be, when low income fathers were still able to apply for legal aid. Beyond family law, however, I believe that removing legal aid is a violation of human rights. If only family law removed all the financial incentives for mothers to play dirty and see the child as a living bank account, then legal aid should be available here too.

  2. Unhappy Taxpayer says:

    The system is corrupt. It allows women to make things up to the police, social services, etc. to get free legal aid. The accused has no such right.

    The solicitors involved then, even with proof that the accuser has lied, are still able to play a delaying game with free public money. It’s disgusting. It’s not right. The accused has no rights, even with proof.

    The system needs changing. I have lost all confidence that you can get justice through the court in a family matter. Something needs to change. I’d love to tell my story.

  3. Nordic says:

    Of course, a matrimonial property regime would eliminate the vast majority of financial relief cases and with them any associated legal aid requirements without the unfairness of current cuts. It would also free up vast amounts of court time and remove a huge source of conflict between parents with all what this entails in terms of collateral damage for the children. Such regimes can be studied in most jurisdictions surrounding these isles.
    The courts are not in meltdown because of legal aid cuts. They are in meltdown under the burden of unnecessary judicial discretion in matters which other countries have long removed from the battlefield of the courtroom through law. Given the massive vested interests which benefit from the current lawless mess, maybe a total meltdown is what is needed to finally make parliament act and impose itself on what undoubtedly is the most important policy area of all.

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  6. Steve says:

    Why the constant knocking of LIP’s. Does it matter that the justice system set up to represent the people is clogged up after all it is there to help.

    Let’s face it, the ordinary person cannot realistically afford solicitors or at least they can from the outset then they are ruined by cost build firms and often poor advice. Solicitors need to understand the ordinary person cannot afford the football star salaries earned by many solicitors.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Steve
      My point exactly. But if legal aid was still around, better tests, better run, more emphasis on recovery of costs, not designed for enormous expenditure on pointless cases, then more people would have access to it.
      Regards
      Marilyn

  7. Legal aid cuts mean more people go without assistance, says CAB - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) staff have been struggling to direct clients towards suitable advice since the introduction of last year’s legal aid cuts. […]

  8. Pete says:

    I did not sugarcoat my opinion. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling needs kicking out of office. He has overseen the dismantling of a system which allowed anyone to seek justice
    ———————–
    Is that with the exception of men in divorce cases ?
    —————————————————————
    These people, called ‘litigants in person’, do not know what they are doing. They have no legal training or qualifications
    ———————
    unlike the con artists they call solicitors who tell you to go to court then refuse to ask questions then throw their hands up after 5 hours and ask for direction.
    Its a system that’s totally unfair and full of injustice it needs pulling down and rebuilding with caps on how much solicitors can charge.

  9. JamesB says:

    Very good debate here. I agree with all of the other commentators, especially Nordic and Pete. A fair charge for a fair service is needed. The law has been a massive charge for an uncertain and lacking in credibility service, this is what has caused the problem, which I admit is a problem, of people having access to law and representation. So, as Pete quite rightly says,

    Its a system that’s totally unfair and full of injustice it needs pulling down and rebuilding

    Which to be fair is sort of what the government are in the process of doing. No service, leaving it to couples to sort out their differences, is an improvement on the service we had, to be frank I am talking about divorce and civil domestic violence law. Better still would be Tesco law. If it can be done for wills, then it should be done for family law, which is what we are talking here, same argument as Nordic’s above really.

    Marilyn, most people on here aren’t going to be pro solicitors after having been given an expensive run-around. I suppose there are those who have gone through family law efficiently with little money spent on it and not too much making a drama out of a crisis, but I haven’t met them.

    It is a credit to you that you give people the forum to air their feelings on the subject. For the last ten years I have been involved in legal case after legal case, and am still involved in about 3. I have unfortunately become a bit knowledgeable on civil law in England.

    To blame Chris Grayling is to shoot the messenger. I have found other lawyers to be ok, however I have also found family law to be impossible as per the above commenters. Where I have been able to settle other (non family) cases efficiently in terms of cost and emotion, I have never found this to be the case with family law cases. I think you seem to be one of the better lawyers though, thing is I think you are an exception to the rule.

    I mean, if you are a solicitor with little work on, and a father and daughter come in and say, they don’t care what it costs, they want win and take the ex husband to the cleaners in the name of family law and section 25 and children and dv etc. are you really, even if you are a member of resolution, going to turn them away? Or advise them to calm down and be reasonable. No, I don’t think so, as long as they keep on paying then you take the money and you end up taking a Litigant in person to court and blaming him. That is what happened in my case, I had to go to court on everything from allegations of drinking vitamin c to parking my car on a slope, who holds the passports, etc. and various other accusations.

    Completely agree with all the posters on here. The system needs to and needed to change. I still remember people laying into me in court for no good reason, other than I couldn’t afford a lawyer to argue contentious points, outrageous that.

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