Yesterday marked the 65th anniversary of the founding of the modern legal aid system. It was on 30th July 1949 that the Legal Aid and Advice Bill received Royal Assent.
To coincide with the anniversary, the Legal Action Group (LAG) published the results of opinion polling research which shows a lack of public support for the government’s cuts to legal aid.
The fieldwork for the polls was carried out by the independent research company Ipsos-Mori. The first poll was conducted in April last year, the month in which the government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act was introduced, with a follow-up poll conducted in April this year. Both polls used a sample group of just over 1000 members of the public and were undertaken as part of the regular public opinion polling exercise which Ipsos-MORI runs.
The two polls asked the public if they agreed or not that legal aid should be cut to reduce the government spending deficit.
Last year, a third (34 per cent) of adults aged 18 and over in Great Britain agreed that legal aid should be cut as part of the deficit reduction programme, but there has been a shift in opinion with only 23 per cent agreeing this year.
In 2013, 44 per cent of people disagreed with the statement that legal aid should be cut to reduce the government spend deficit, compared to 49 per cent this year.
A quarter of adults neither agreed nor disagreed that legal aid should be cut to reduce the deficit in 2014, compared to just under one in five (18 per cent) in 2013, an increase of seven percentage points.
LAG also undertook an analysis of news stories about legal aid and found evidence that the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling consistently aims to sway public opinion against the legal aid system and the lawyers who work in it.
Despite these attempts, LAG’s research indicates that only a small proportion of the public agreed that this should happen. The level of support for the government’s position has been declining even further over the last year. A significantly greater proportion of the public disagree with the decision to cut legal aid as a means to reduce the government deficit than did so twelve months ago.
In LAG’s view their research shows that the government is comprehensively losing the argument over legal aid policy. In the run-up to the general election it suggests that the Law Society and other organisations concerned with access to justice will need to concentrate on highlighting the gaps in services available to the public.
Citizens Advice has already picked-up this baton. They reported on research to the recent Justice Select Committee which showed that nine in ten of their bureaux had nowhere to refer clients to who needed specialist legal advice.