Bar Council: Access to justice will be deprived

Bar Council: Access to justice will be deprived
Bar Council: Access to justice will be deprived

Peter Lodder QC, chairman of the Bar Council, says that the government is not listening to judiciary on legal aid and access to justice will suffer:

"The prime minister asked this morning: 'Why would you ever have green papers or white papers if you never listened to what people said in response to them?'. The government has failed to listen to the views expressed by many in the judiciary, the legal profession and voluntary organisations in formulating its proposals on legal aid.

"Legal aid will be withdrawn from whole swathes of areas of law and access to justice will be systematically deprived.

"Continual misrepresentation on the cost of the legal aid system should fool no one. The justice select committee found that looking at the system in the round, the UK's expenditure is average for Europe. We will be well below average after these cuts.

"It is wholly unsatisfactory that the government is determined to forge ahead with its radical reform of legal aid in family cases while the important work of the family justice review is still ongoing. The government has apparently not taken any account of the interim recommendations of the family justice review for fundamental reform of the family justice system; reforms which are likely to achieve economies in the delivery of justice.

"We are very concerned about the risk to significant numbers of children at the centre of family disputes before the courts, whose parents will not be able to receive legal advice or representation. This has significant implications for access to justice of these children, and of their families, many of whom are among the most vulnerable members of our society.

"The government's expectations of the impact of increased numbers of unrepresented litigants in the courts are wholly unrealistic. As those who work in the court system made clear in their representations to government, the courts will become clogged by unrepresented litigants, and, in the event that parties are forced to appear without representation, the systems will become slower. The court system will seize up, cases will take longer, and overall costs will increase.

"The decision to decimate fees for family lawyers will undoubtedly cause many lawyers and law firms to cease to practice in this vital field. Regrettably, those most affected by these cuts, as the government knows, are experienced lawyers, women lawyers and BME lawyers. If firms cease to trade, those who need legal advice will have to travel further to find help, and we fear that the quality of the service which they receive will be significantly reduced.

"In crime it is incomprehensible that the government should do nothing to reduce the burden on the legal aid fund by forcing wealthy defendants whose assets have been restrained to pay for their own defence instead of granting them free legal aid and artificially inflating the cost of legal aid to the taxpayer.

"With few exceptions, the government is intent on implementing further unwarranted cuts to criminal legal aid rates. The cuts proposed will hit young and junior advocates very hard. At the more senior end, those who defend in murder cases will find their fees cut by about 25% on top of the 13.5% cuts already in progress. Cuts of nearly 40% for defending those accused of the most serious crimes sends a clear message as to what price the government places on the defence of its citizens.

"The government seems to have decided to settle for a second rate criminal justice system rather than to strive to ensure a system which this country needs and deserves. It is particularly depressing to note that the ministerial statement accompanying the government response professes to be concerned with addressing 'overprescriptive law that undermined the expertise of professionals', when the same statement heralds cuts to legal aid which will have precisely that effect, namely of driving experienced and dedicated professionals away from criminal practice because they will not be able to make ends meet." 


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