What price access to justice?

Thursday 18 August 2011

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Marc Willers received the award for Barrister of the Year at the 2011 Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year awards in June. In his article he reviews the impact that the proposed changes to Legal Aid will have upon the provision of advice and representation in civil cases. To read the full article on our blog click here.

Access to justice is under grave attack by the Coalition Government. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2011 (the 'Legal Aid Bill') is currently before Parliament and if it is enacted then it will result in severe and swingeing cuts to public funding for advice and representation in a wide spectrum of civil cases.

In November 2010 the Ministry of Justice published a consultation paper entitled 'Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales'. The Coalition Government suggests that the changes will reduce the cost of the Legal Aid system by £350 million. Those savings will be achieved by a number of controversial measures, which include the drastic reduction in the current scope of Legal Aid.

There were more than 5000 responses to the consultation paper, the vast majority of which urged the Coalition to protect and conserve Legal Aid in its current form and to find savings and increase revenue elsewhere.

What can we do to try to prevent the Government from demolishing much of our Legal Aid system? The Legal Aid Bill is currently being considered by a select committee in the House of Commons and it will be sent to the House of Lords on 13th October 2011. There is still time for us to influence MPs and members of the House of Lords and we must do all that we can to make the case for the retention of Legal Aid in its present form. Write to your MP and your local newspaper. Alternatively, lend your support to Justice for All, a coalition of organisations and individuals that is at the forefront of the campaign against the proposed changes. Let's do all we can to try to persuade the Coalition Government to place value in our justice system and the provision of civil Legal Aid and not sleepwalk into a situation where access to justice becomes the prerogative of the rich.

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