The legal aid reforms which were introduced this year have had both majorsocial and economic repercussions. As previously considered by The Student Lawyer, the effects of the legal aid cuts have been pervasive and considerable. There have been many groups who have voiced their opinions over these cuts and the impact on British society. This article will explore the various responses.
UK Uncut is a movement which came about as a result of the closure of Vodafone stores. They believe that the cuts are the result of the recklessness of the rich and have been inflicted on the poor and the elderly. The stance of UK Uncut is that the government’s decision to cut aid is inherently wrong and has had an abrasive effect on the country. They also argue that the ideas used by the government to justify these cuts are ideologically unfair and incorrect.
Compared to similar protest groups, UK Uncut’s response has been more active and disruptive. Roadblock protests and a grassroots campaign to spread the word have been planned, as well as protests at banks and other public places. UK Uncut believes that this activism is the only way to get the government to notice the ramifications of these cuts and to garner local interest in the matter.
The Parole Board
The Parole Board is an independent body that works with various criminal bodies in relation to criminal sentencing. The legal aid cuts have caused concern as the nature of the Parole Board may be at risk. The vital input from law practitioners to train Parole Board staff and help improve the Board would suffer as a result.
Another key factor is that these cuts negatively impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of using legal practitioners. Prisoners usually require one lawyer for the duration of their sentence; these cuts may result in the need for multiple practitioners to be available each time one is required, which would be time-consuming and inefficient.
There is also a fear that the cuts will entice the use of legal professionals who do not have a background in prison law and who might advise their clients to ask for release at every hearing. This bad practice would be very costly for the justice system and would cause numerous problems, including time delays and wasted resources. The Parole Board believes that experienced lawyers would be able to advise their clients to seek alternative solutions, thus avoiding wasting public funds. Furthermore, if there are more lawyers who lack experience in prison law, hearings could take longer to conclude which would be very inefficient.
Legal Action Group
The Legal Action Group (LAG) is a charity that specialises in access to justice. Their belief is that the legal aid cuts will lead to a gap in justice. They argue that, coupled with the benefit cuts, there are now numerous households in the UK that are vulnerable to legal injustice, as they cannot afford legal representation.
QCs have also voiced their opinions over the cuts. Many argue that the cuts will lead to the closure of certain public law practitioners whose clients rely on legal aid more than others. They also argue that many clients will have to represent themselves, while the government will be represented by reputable and talented professionals due to its readily available finances. According to these barristers, the undermining of the rule of law and the reputation of Britain’s justice system are also at stake.
Recently, the Liberal Democrats have voted against any further cuts to legal aid. They have stated that they will remain against these cuts until it can be proved that such changes will not restrict access to justice.
The political party UKIP has voiced its support for lawyers against further legal aid cuts. They argue that, contrary to popular belief, the cuts will not just reduce solicitor fees (which are often deemed too high and undeserving), but will have a considerable negative effect on the legal system. The reduction of solicitors and lawyers will mean that clients will have a much smaller pool from which to choose a legal representative.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
The EHRC has argued that the cuts could be incompatible with equality law. This concern stems from the possibility that the changes could have a negative effect on Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) – the right to a fair trial. This could affect both those who are pursuing a civil case and those who are being tried for criminal offences.