This motion notes the impact that legal aid cuts have had, and asserts that these cuts disproportionately affect people who are disabled, women, BAME, and those for whom English is not a first language.
It claims that legal aid cuts have contributed to poverty and social exclusion.
The motion calls for legal aid to be restored for early legal advice in cases of welfare, debt, employment, immigration, housing and family law.
It further calls for automatic eligibility for anyone on means-tested benefits, and a simplification of the application process as a whole.
Mover: Lord Marks (Lords Spokesperson for Justice).
Summation: Wera Hobhouse MP (Commons Spokesperson for Justice).
- Access to justice is a crucial right: and one that is vital for individuals to enforce their other rights and to defend themselves from injustice.
- Legal aid is critical to ensuring access to justice for all and has been since its introduction in 1949.
- Physical access to court buildings in terms of distance and costs are frequently important factors.
Conference notes with concern that:
- Legal aid spending in England and Wales has been cut by £933 million in real terms since 2011: much more than the £450 million forecast by the Government when it introduced the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
- The number of civil cases receiving legal aid funding for early legal advice and assistance has fallen by more than 80% since 2011, and the number granted legal aid for representation has fallen by 30%.
- The number of criminal cases receiving legal aid funding has fallen by a third since 2011.
- The number of people appearing in civil and family courts without legal representation has increased significantly since LASPO took effect.
- The number of civil legal aid providers has fallen by a third since 2012, creating ‘legal aid deserts’: parts of the country where there are no legal aid providers for particular areas of law.
- Cuts to legal aid have disproportionately affected the vulnerable, particularly disabled people, women, BAME people and those whose first language is not English.
- Government is closing many court buildings, selling the premises and transferring hearings to places often some distance away at great inconvenience and cost to defendants, witnesses, lawyers, magistrates, judges and journalists.
Conference regrets that:
- Cuts to legal aid have damaged access to justice, increased the number of unrepresented litigants and created justice deserts.
- Too many people, especially the most vulnerable, are currently denied their right to access to justice, contributing to poverty and social exclusion.
- A lack of access to legal advice prevents the amicable resolution of many cases, with the result that they are contested in court unnecessarily, causing stress to the parties and wasting time and expense.
Conference calls for:
- The restoration of legal aid for early legal advice and assistance – and representation where merited – in welfare, debt, employment, immigration, housing and family law cases.
- The legal aid system to be made simpler and more generous for both civil and criminal cases, with everyone in receipt of means-tested benefits automatically eligible.
- Urgent reform of the Exceptional Case Funding scheme for legal aid, including simplifying the application process, to ensure that no one is prevented from enforcing their human rights by a lack of funds.
- A new right to affordable, reasonable legal assistance with a new, independent Justice Commission to monitor and enforce it.
- Restoration of community court buildings where still available, or Government investment in new user-friendly premises where required and justified.
Applicability: England and Wales.