Two prominent organisations have criticised legal aid cuts in England and Wales.
Both the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) and human rights group Amnesty International have condemned measures which were introduced as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2013. These eliminated legal aid for most family law disputes and severely limited it for other civil cases.
This week, the TUC published a report entitled Justice Denied in which they claim LASPO is “pricing people out of justice”. Researchers asked 141 people who work for various legal organisations about the impact of the legal aid cuts. More than two thirds of those questioned believed that cases were taking longer to complete since LASPO was enacted.
Additionally, the vast majority of participants – 87 per cent – said the resulting rise in the number of litigants in person had had a detrimental effect on the family court’s ability to provide justice “fairly, effectively and efficiently”.
Kevin Rowan is the head of public services for the TUC. He said the report should act as “a wake up-call to ministers”.
This came shortly after Amnesty International made similar arguments in their assessment of the legal aid cuts. Their report was titled Cuts that Hurt: The impact of legal aid cuts on access to justice. In it, the group argued that LASPO had disproportionately affected marginalised groups and claimed that “advice deserts” had formed in some areas where people did not have access to proper legal guidance.
Alice Wyss, the organisation’s UK researcher, claimed that access to justice had been “decimated” by LASPO and “left thousands of the most vulnerable without essential legal advice and support”. As a result, England and Wales was in danger of having a two-tier justice system which is “closed to the poorest” she warned.
Amnesty International called on the government to launch “a review of this failing system immediately”. Wyss added that if the Prime Minister was “really determined to deliver a country that works for all then there needs to be a justice system for everyone, not just those who can afford it”.