The restoration of legal aid for civil and family law cases is “imperative”, a new report claims.
The Bar Council conducted an online survey of legal practitioners in April to assess the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). They also conducted interviews with several professionals between May and July.
The conclusion of the report called for an expansion of the parameters required for a case to be eligible for “exceptional funding”. The Bar Council recommended that such an expansion include cases which are of “overwhelming importance to the client” and those with a “significant wider public interest”.
The report found that the legal aid cuts have resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of people representing themselves in court. Of the people who work in the family courts surveyed for the report, 90 per cent reported a noticeable rise. Litigants in person continue to place “unprecedented pressures” on the family justice system, the report claims.
Nicholas Lavender, Chairman of the Bar Council, said the report shows that many of their fears about LASPO were accurate. He added that people “dealing with life-changing legal issues are denied fair access to justice if they cannot afford it”.
He called the current system “not fit for purpose”, as costs to tax payers have gone up, free legal advisors are “creaking under the strain” and pro bono lawyers cannot cope with the demand.
This report follows comments from a family judge in Wales earlier this month that the legal aid cuts were damaging children. Additionally, in July, the Low Commission published research which suggested that legal aid effectively pays for itself, and the Legal Aid Agency said the government could afford to bring it back.
The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales.