Demand for free legal assistance has almost doubled over the last three years, a national charity has revealed.
In 2012, the government introduced Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO). This legislation included widespread cuts to legal aid, and effectively eliminated it for family law cases. The only exceptions now are cases involving domestic violence.
The Bar Pro Bono Unit (BPBU) is a legal charity which helps those who need representation but cannot afford it and do not qualify for legal aid. They have said that the rise in demand for their services since LASPO has caused considerable strain on charities and lawyers alike. BPBU’s chief executive Jess Campbell said that the Bar “always supported pro bono work and giving unbilled hours” because it was “in the nature of the profession”.
However, things have changed since LASPO was introduced, she added. This year, BPBU received 1,331 applications for help by the end of July. This is a significant increase from 2012, when the charity received only 1,282 applications during the whole year.
Ms Campbell said that their “barristers are being asked to do work that they would previously have been paid for” which some find “quite galling”.
Sarah Slaughter is a caseworker at BPBU. She said that the charity is particularly struggling to cope with the demand for help in family law cases after “divorce and custody applications shot up” following the legal aid cuts.
BPBU was established in 1996 and now has over 3,600 barristers – and a third of all QCs – willing to provide legal representation free of charge. For more information, click here.