When the legal aid system was “reformed” there wasn’t the outcry that you would expect there to be. Solicitors, lawyers and barristers went on strike and protested outside courtrooms. But no one took any notice. The apathy from the public was astounding. Maybe some people didn’t realise that this was happening and other people thought that it didn’t matter because it wouldn’t affect them.
I didn’t take either of those views. I knew that it would be devestating, especially to women and children who were often forced to use the courts for child custody cases etc. I myself had used the legal aid system in the past and it was a lifeline. I also had to return to court when the legal aid system had stopped and I now owe a debt that will take me years to pay off.
What’s the result of the legal aid cuts? People hiding away, having to carry on being a victim in often bad situations, knowing that they are powerless to take any action against the perpetrator. This is wrong. I was reminded of this when I saw this letter in a newspaper.
In 2010, annual expenditure for the civil and criminal justice system stood at approximately £2bn per annum, which equates to the cost of running the NHS for a fortnight. Spending was falling and was not spiralling out of control. Now, after two years of an unprecedented programme of cuts, the level of spending is down to approximately £1.5bn per annum. The effect of the cuts is reflected in eye-watering statistics. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, debt cases fell from 81,792 to 2,423 and in clinical negligence from 2,859 to 114. In employment law, legally aided cases fell from 16,154 to six in the same period. The huge increase in employment tribunal fees has meant that people without deep pockets have little to no protection against unscrupulous employers. We know that cuts disproportionately affect women and, sure enough, the government’s own figures show an 80% drop in the number of women taking employment cases to tribunal. Funding in family law cases dropped by 60%, causing a predicted rise in unrepresented defendants, a trend now also starting to be seen in the criminal courts.
What the figures do not convey is the sheer human misery of being unable to get legal advice. GPs report a large increase in the number of patients who would have been assisted by advice on benefits, employment, debts and housing. Cuts to legal aid are literally making people sick. Civil servants in the Ministry of Justice admit the imperative has been to cut first and gather evidence later. As the justice committee recently noted, there has been no attempt to analyse the knock-on effects of the cut on other parts of government spending. Research by the Legal Action Group has demonstrated that every £1 spent on legal aid advice saves the state £6.
Let’s fight to get the legal aid system back. We need it!
A friend of mine has been sanctioned whilst on ESA because they attended a babies funeral. This is very wrong, especially considering that they were notified that they were attending the funeral and it was passed by the DWP. This angers me a lot. I value my friends enormously and this has upset me greatly.
Today I attended the May Day festivities at the mechanics institute. It was a great day and I managed to be able to speak at a workshop. I spoke about the benefit reforms and how we can make a stand. Hello to the lovely woman who said hello to me, thank you for reading my blog.