High Court Judge Mr Justice Mostyn described the legal aid cuts of 2013 as “savagery” during a recent speech in Sydney, Australia.
The eminent Judge had been invited to speak at a conference marking the 800th anniversary of the signing of political charter the Magna Carta. In speech entitled Magna Carta and Access to Justice in Family Proceedings, the former barrister referred to the much discussed financial crash of 2008. When that occurred, he declared, it became inevitable that cuts would be made to the legal aid scheme.
But, he declared:
“…What no-one anticipated was the savagery of the cuts, with private family law proceedings, save in certain very limited circumstances, being taken out of scope altogether.”
Since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, legal aid has been restricted to family law cases when domestic violence or child abuse has been demonstrated, mediation and some international cases. ‘Public’ disputes, when parents face having their children taken into care, are also still eligible.
Mr Justice Mostyn said he understood the need to reduce the government deficit, but did not believe it had been fair to cut legal aid as sharply as the government has done.
“Even allowing for the need to make cuts in order to reduce the fiscal deficit I do not accept that in the critically important area of private family law it has been necessary to sacrifice individual justice on the altar of the public debt, at least not to the extent that has happened.”
“It is not clear to me why this particular pillar of the welfare state has had to fall.”
The number of people effectively disenfranchised from civil justice was slowly but steadily increasing, he declared, and there was little prospect of respite from further cuts following “the unexpected victory and attainment of an absolute majority by the Conservatives on 7 May 2015.”
“Apart from the Greens no party included a reversal or mitigation of the legal aid cuts in its election manifesto.”
Read Mr Justice Mostyn’s full speech here.
Photo of Sydney, Australia by Sjoerd van Oosten via Flickr