What's happening to Legal Aid
You may well have read in the national press about cutbacks in legal aid
. These cutbacks are often accompanied with remarks about fat cat lawyers living off the cream of the legal aid fund
, they seldom mention the harm to access to justice by those of modest means, nor the many hard working and dedicated lawyers who represent them for a fraction of the fees earned by their colleagues who are privately funded.
The situation is already difficult, legal aid
has already been withdrawn from many areas of law, and where it is available only the poorest qualify. Strict rules on means testing mean that those in work who earn the national average wage (approximately £23K) are unlikely to qualify.
But now things are going to get worse, the government is looking to reduce the budget by at least 25% and possibly as much as 40%. They have already re-organised lawyers contracts in family law and have lost some 40% of the firms undertaking that work along the way. This means that within a few more months, as current contracts finish, many areas will be left with no local firm able to offer help in divorce, disputes over access to children and care proceedings. Even where one firm has survived, many family problems involve two parties who are in dispute over matters such as who should have the children, meaning that one party may have to travel many miles to find another practice to help them.
It's not just family, in criminal work means testing has already been introduced. This means that Mr. Average who finds himself wrongly accused of a crime, is unlikely to qualify for any representation in the Magistrates Court and in more serious matters in the Crown Court, may be asked to pay a colossal contribution towards costs. Don't think that it may never happen to you, a momentary lapse of attention whilst driving resulting in a fatality can lead to a prosecution for causing death by careless driving, conviction for which often leads to imprisonment. So, not only the trauma of the accident and the anxiety of a prosecution, but also the added worry of trying to pay for experienced representation.
Interesting to note that, despite yet another attack on the ordinary man or woman in the street, the three former Members of Parliament accused of falsifying their expenses have all been granted legal aid to include representation by three separate firms of solicitors, three barristers and three Queens Counsel. They have already expended goodness knows how many hundreds of thousands of pounds of your money on a failed application, to prevent their prosecution, to the Court of Appeal, where the Crown were represented by three barristers and one Queens Counsel, all paid for by the taxpayer. What was that about "justice for all" its more a case of "one law for them and -------------"