People who are ineligible for legal aid feel “stressed, powerless and unable to get on with life” as a result, researchers have claimed.
An upcoming report by Middlesex University and anti-poverty charity Toynbee Hall details the experiences of people in London who need legal representation but do not have the means to pay for it.
In 2012, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act was introduced by the coalition government. It made deep cuts to legal aid. After this legislation was enacted, there was effectively no legal aid available for family law cases unless one party could prove domestic violence had occurred.
Researchers found that a majority of the people they spoke too – 78 per cent – reported feeling high levels of anxiety as a result of their inability to access legal aid. Respondents also claimed this stress had had a negative effect on their ability as a parent or their performance at work.
Dr Alessio D’Angelo is a senior social sciences lecturer at Middlesex University. He said that access to justice has been “dramatically eroded by the recent cuts to legal aid”. The cuts are “jeopardising the rule of law” and that the “most vulnerable people in society are being affected disproportionately”, he added.
Chief Executive of Toynbee Hall Graham Fisher called for legal aid to be reinstated for family, employment and housing matters. He said that “a fresh look at means testing and eligibility” was also required. In addition to the return of legal help, Mr Fisher claimed that “more emotional support should be provided for people experiencing anxiety and distress”.
The report, Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid, will be officially launched at a seminar in London on 9 November. For more information, click here.