As a former legal aid solicitor for nearly thirty years, I have experienced at first hand the impact of the cuts particularly over the last eight years, to the scope and availability of legal aid both in terms of its impacts on citizens but also, the numbers and available access to those solicitors who have managed to continue to undertake legal aid work on behalf of clients.
Since being elected as an MP, I have experienced in my advice surgeries every single week, constituents who need urgent legal advice and representation about important problems affecting them and their families and they have a very concerning lack of access to justice.
I was part of the campaign against LASPO. It has been a disaster. The Government’s long overdue, promised review into LAPSO is unlikely to shine any sort of light onto the problems that are obvious and harmful. I expect it to be a feeble, missed opportunity to accept that LASPO was ideological, badly conceived and drafted legislation which has irrevocably harmed access to justice.
Statistics show that 95% of people who have lost access to legal aid come from the lowest 5th of earners, the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. £950 million has been cut from the Legal Aid budget since 2010. Before these cuts 60% were represented in Court, now it’s only 33%. The chaos is spreading to the criminal system with even the Bar taking industrial action. The outgoing head of the Family Courts in England and Wales Sir James Munby said in July “Anybody who thinks that we currently have a network of courts which enables proper access to justice is deluding themselves.”
I wrote an article recently on my concerns and what Parliament might do on a cross party basis to address them. You can read it here;
I also worked with Labour Peer, Lord Bach, on his wide ranging report on Access to Justice as a Shadow Justice Minister during his Commission. In my view, it forms a ready-made chapter for the next Labour General Election Manifesto. You can read the report and recommendations here;
I signed the parliamentary Early Day Motion to provide legal aid to families at inquests;