Legal reforms don’t tend to be headline news. But cuts to legal aid could have – and is already having – a devastating impact on our legal system. Lawyers’ fees are to be cut, and the criteria for eligibility for legal aid has already been tightened. Legal aid – ensuring access to justice and a fair trial regardless of wealth – is a crucial part of our justice system, and these swingeing cuts are putting it at risk.
This is already having an effect, as I found out while writing a feature on legal aid cuts for the New Statesman (published 13 January). You can read the full piece at the NS website, and here’s a short excerpt:
Taken together, the effect on both civil cases (like family law and immigration) and criminal cases (like assault or theft) is devastating. “What we’re seeing is the unemployed, the poor, the marginal, being prevented from accessing justice,” says Ben Bowling, professor of criminology and criminal justice at King’s College London. “The first thing that will happen, to put it crudely, is that people will be put off taking action against state abuses, for example. At the moment we have justice by geography and this will be justice by wealth. Allowing ‘ordinary’ people to seek redress in court is, in a sense, a way of defending the poor – and that is not a vote winner.”
The piece was well-received, with the shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter recommending it on Twitter, among others: