The reduction in legal aid funding over the past decade has exacerbated existing barriers to justice, the House of Lords constitution committee said in a new, comprehensive report
Peers said affordable legal representation “enhances access to justice” and “supports the efficient operation of the justice system”. Conversely, the report points out that litigants in person can create additional work for the courts.
However, witnesses to the inquiry “repeatedly” cited cuts to the legal aid budget as restricting access to legal advice and undermining access to justice.
The report states: “Accurate legal advice at an early stage can help to reduce the burden on the courts by facilitating the practical resolution of disputes in advance of litigation and by helping to filter out unmeritorious cases. The absence of effective legal advice and support can lead to additional costs for other parts of society, such as the benefits system, local government, and the police.”
James Sandbach LawWorks’ director of policy and external affairs, told the inquiry: “Legal aid should not necessarily be seen as a silo, but rather as part of a package of support that people need when they interact with the justice system and public services.”
Last August, the Ministry of Justice announced a £50m investment for legal aid but the committee said that is not enough and “considerable additional funding will be required in the coming year… to match the reality of need.”
Responding to the report, the Law Society’s head of justice Richard Miller said the Society welcomed the call for the government to further increase legal aid funding.
“While the criminal legal aid review will hopefully provide the structural increase in resources needed for the long-term sustainability of the sector, the failure to increase payments for more than 20 years and the low volume of Crown Court trials, leave the future survival of criminal legal aid firms – a crucial element of our criminal justice system – at stake,” he added....