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Pro bono work 'can never replace legal aid', CJC warns

11 November 2011

The Civil Justice Council has warned that pro bono work “can never replace legal aid” in a report on litigants in person published this morning, as National Pro Bono Week came to an end.

“Pro bono legal services cannot begin to meet the scale of shortfall in provision that will be left by the proposed reductions and changes in legal aid,” the CJC said.

“For all its development over the last decade, pro bono work exists only as an adjunct to legal aid and privately paid legal services. It can never replace legal aid.”

The CJC working group, chaired by Robin Knowles QC and including Mr Justice Cranston, predicted that cuts in legal aid and local government funding to advice agencies meant that litigants in person would become “the rule rather than the exception”.

The CJC went on: “It is a reality that those who cannot afford legal services and those for whom the state will not provide legal aid comprise the larger part of the population of England and Wales.

“Thus for most members of the public who become involved in legal proceedings they will have to represent themselves. The thing that keeps that reality below the surface is simply the hope or belief on the part of most people that they will not have a civil dispute.”

The group said that “every informed prediction” was that the legal aid cuts would increase the number of self-represented litigants by a “considerable” amount.

“Such litigants will be the rule rather than the exception. Where there is not an increase the reason will be that the individual was resigned to accepting that the civil justice system was not open to them, even if they had a problem it could solve or it could give access to the rights they were entitled to.”

The report made ten recommendations for immediate action, including improving online resources, producing a ‘nutshell’ guide for litigants in person and advice for judges on the availability of pro bono advice.

However, the CJC said that even if all the recommendations it made were acted on, they would not prevent the reality that in many situations, the legal aid cuts would result in a “denial of justice”.

“There must be no misunderstanding about this. Put colloquially, the recommendations are about making ‘the best of a bad job’.”

Categorised in:

Legal Aid