THE BLOG

Legal Aid Access 'Worse Than 1949'

22/01/2015 12:48 GMT | Updated 23/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Access to legal advice is scarcer now than it was in 1949, a damning report by the General Bar Council has claimed.

The study, published by the regulatory body last year, claims that cuts to legal aid have left "devastating" implications for those hoping for a fair trial within Britain's criminal justice system.

Government reforms to the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act initiated a wide-scale shake up of the profession which was contested by lawyers and Conservative MPs alike. The legislation further restricted who can access the legal benefit, required court-goers to contact call centres rather than trained solicitors, and rolled out pay cuts to lawyers undertaking legal aid work for vulnerable clients.

The report, entitled LASPO: One Year On, also reported a disturbing rise in cases without lawyers which has led to country-wide court delays.

The findings also claim that self representation in court was just as damaging for claimants as it is for victims. Lawyers interviewed for the study reiterated that emotionally traumatised victims of crimes such as domestic violence and rape found themselves under increased scrutiny when the accused had no representation.

In one instance, outlined by the report, a lawyer was forced to offer completely free representation to a domestically abusive husband in order to save the defendant's victim from further trauma. As the accused did not qualify for legal aid, this would complicate the process for his victim.

"[Without the lawyer's invention] this would have meant cross-examining the woman he had beaten seven bells out of for the past fifteen years, but a barrister stood in and represented him pro bono. This should not be happening."

A number of other abysmal predictions made by the Bar Council two years ago were also proven accurate already, despite the policies being enacted a mere 12 months before the study began.

Accurate predictions included a drop in lawyers willing to adopt complex cases, and a decrease in lawyers able to see themselves working in the profession should current trends continue.

Legal aid campaigners continue to push for the reversal of LASPO reforms, and industry-wide protests over these changes rage on.