The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was published by the Ministry of Justice last week. There are serious concerns that cuts to Legal Aid will leave many vulnerable people without the benefit of legal advice and representation. Legal Aid will no longer be routinely available for most private family law cases, clinical negligence, employment, immigration, some debt and housing issues, some education cases, and welfare benefits. The government have said that public funds will only remain for cases where people’s life or liberty is at stake, where they are at risk of serious physical harm or where children might be taken into care.
In respect of my own area of Family Law, there is a caveat that Legal Aid will still be available when there is domestic violence involved. Cases involving children with special educational needs is also to remain in the scope of the Legal Aid scheme. We are however concerned that these restrictions will limit access to justice for many individuals who may now be unable to obtain Legal Aid but also unable to afford to pay for advice privately. This could also have the effect of making cases more difficult and take longer to resolve. In our experience when one party does not have the benefit of legal advice then it often makes it more rather than less difficult to resolve matters before having to go to Court as they do not have the benefit of a Solicitor giving them sensible and pragmatic advice on what a Judge might decide in the event of contested proceedings. This often leads people to taking unrealistic positions and reduces the chance of reaching a negotiated settlement.
Blacks Solicitors LLP