It is somewhat ironic that the consultation period set by the Government in relation to its plans to slash the Legal Aid budget closes on Valentine's Day, especially when it is the person encountering matrimonial difficulties who is potentially going to be hit hardest by the proposals. Resolution remains deeply concerned that the proposed changes will make it practically impossible to gain the legal advice, representation and court encouraged settlement or decisions that many people genuinely need and will result in unfair outcomes. The proposals will deny access to justice to people who need it at one of the most stressful and difficult times of their lives with potentially devastating consequences on families and children.
The Green Paper proposes that Legal Aid should no longer be available for people wishing to divorce or people whose partner wishes to divorce them and, unless there has been recent domestic violence (defined narrowly), for:
People who need legal assistance with sorting out the finances on divorce
Parents who need legal assistance in arranging contact with their children
Cohabitants where one partner needs help to claim a share of the family home
Whilst I have not undertaken legal aid work for over 12 years, I support Resolution in contending that:
- The cuts don’t have to be made; it is a political choice to cut legal aid, not a necessity.
- The Legal aid budget has been frozen in cash terms since 2004 despite massive increases in the volume of cases lawyers have had to handle. It accounts for less than one third of one percent of public expenditure, or one third of the annual increase in the health service budget.
- The impact assessment shows the cuts will have a greater impact on women and the black and minority ethnic community (BAME) as 59% of legal aid clients are female and 26% BAME
- The focus should be on reducing complex laws and procedures to help reduce the cost of justice.
- There will be many knock on effects of these cuts leading to increased costs in other parts of the justice system and health and social services.
- The purpose of legal aid is to ensure that nobody is unable to enforce or defend their rights for want of the resources to do so.
- Legal aid clients are some of the most vulnerable in society and good legal representation where required is essential if they are to obtain justice