POLITICS

Legal Aid Cuts Could See People 'Taking The Law Into Their Own Hands' Says Lord Neuberger

05/03/2013 07:22 GMT | Updated 05/03/2013 09:06 GMT

The UK's most senior judge has said he fears cuts to legal aid could lead to people "taking the law into their own hands."

In an interview with the BBC, Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, said reforms due to be brought in April could undermine the rule of law.

The reforms mean some areas of law will not be covered by legal aid, including some divorce cases and clinical negligence. It means many people will be forced to pay privately for advice, find charitable help or represent themselves.

Lord Neuberger told the BBC: "My worry is the removal of legal aid for people to get advice about law and get representation in court will start to undermine the rule of law because people will feel like the government isn't giving them access to justice in all sorts of cases.

"And that will either lead to frustration and lack of confidence in the system, or it will lead to people taking the law into their own hands."

He added that people forced to represent themselves will take up more court time, offsetting the financial savings made by cuts.

lord neuberger

The UK's most senior judge has slammed legal aid reforms

Neuberger also slammed Home Secretary Theresa May for attacking judges when discussing human rights and deportation, saying it was not a sensible way for politicians to proceed.

But he said the attacks did not "alarm" him and he said the government had done nothing to "undermine" judges.

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Two weeks ago May accused judges of making the UK more dangerous by ignoring rules aimed at deporting more foreign criminals and told the Mail on Sunday that they were choosing to "ignore parliament's wishes".

"I think attacking judges is not a sensible way to proceed," Lord Neuberger told BBC Radio 4's Law In Action programme, after being asked about May's criticisms.

"It causes me concern but it does not alarm me. No government has done anything to undermine judges."

He added: "It is unfortunate that the Home Secretary has acted and spoken as she has done."

But Lord Neuberger said he would not "get into a slanging match".

May said in the newspaper article that some judges had "got it into their heads" that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to family life - could "not be curbed".

She said it was essential to democracy that elected representatives and not judges made laws.

She added that some judges seemed to believe that they could "ignore Parliament's wishes" if they thought that procedures for parliamentary scrutiny had been weak.

Lord Neuberger said the human rights convention had been given an "unfair press" and European judges did not disagree with UK judges often.

"I think that the convention has got a very unfair press," he said. "The human rights convention has been in general a very good influence on our law."

He said UK judges tried to apply human rights legislation in a realistic way to individual cases. He was it was inevitable that some decisions would be controversial and some "not entirely right".

And Lord Neuberger said publicity was generated when European judges disagreed with a UK court but not when they agreed.

"The number of times that the Strasbourg court has disagreed with the UK court is very small," he said. "Almost every time the Strasbourg court does disagree, it gets headlines. When it agrees it doesn't hit the press."

Lord Neuberger was speaking in an interview, recorded last night at the Supreme Court in London, which the BBC says will be broadcast on Tuesday.