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Legal aid cuts would cause 'huge increase' in litigants in person, judges warn

24 February 2011

The government’s legal aid cuts would lead to a “huge increase” in litigants in person, clogging up the courts and wiping out savings elsewhere in the system, the Judges' Council has warned.

The council represents all the judges in England and Wales and is chaired by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge.

In its response the legal aid green paper, published this morning, the council said one of its major concerns was the cuts would lead to a “huge increase in the incidence of unrepresented litigants”.

They would have “serious implications” for the administration of justice, costs and delays, at a time when the courts were having to cope with closures, budget cuts and reductions in staff.

The judges said the green paper “shows awareness of the issue but fails to recognise the depth of the problem. Even if one focuses on cost alone, there is a real question whether the cost savings arising from the proposed cut¬backs in the scope of civil and family legal aid would be offset by the additional costs imposed on the system by dealing with the increase in litigants in person.

“Neither the consultation paper nor the accompanying impact assessments address that question adequately.”

The judges said the legal aid cuts would damage access to justice in a number of ways.

Cuts in legal help for civil and family cases would undermine “the work and even the viability” of advice agencies “to the particular prejudice of the disadvantaged” and the expanded telephone helpline would not be a satisfactory substitute.

The judges said the government’s proposed scheme for funding excluded cases where it was necessary to meet its legal obligations was “unduly narrow” and would not be sufficient.

Cuts in fees for publicly funded work would provide a “further disincentive” for advocates and diminish the pool of skilled advocates, particularly in family and criminal work, they said.

The judges added that the removal of legal aid from medical negligence cases “did not appear to be justified” and could cause “potential injustice for a small group of highly vulnerable claimants”.

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Legal Aid Courts & Judiciary