Public are giving up on the law, survey reveals
By Nicola Laver
Many people give up and are living with injustice, the Law Society said, following a legal needs survey.
“Every year, fewer people are financially eligible for legal aid”, Law Society president Simon Davis said, with the means test remaining static for more than 10 years now.
The Society in conjunction with the Legal Services Board commissioned the legal needs survey of 38,633 adults which found six in 10 adults in in England and Wales had a legal issue in the last four years.
The survey was conducted online by YouGov, taking in 34 different types of legal issues based on data collected online early last year.
Unsurprisingly, the survey revealed overwhelming public support for legal aid, with 92 per cent of adults supporting legal aid.
More than 70 per cent particularly support legal aid funding in domestic abuse cases and two thirds support it for cases involving unfair police treatment.
On publication of a report, Legal needs of individuals, Davis said the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) has “had a devastating impact on people’s ability to access justice – with thousands of people rendered ineligible for legal aid overnight”.
The number of pre-trial civil legal aid cases has fallen by 82 per cent since 2010, according to Legal Aid Agency figures.
Davis commented: “The range of legal issues which qualified for legal aid was cut drastically. Early advice was particularly hard hit and the ‘exceptional case funding’ safety net has not worked.
“To make matters worse, the means test has not been adjusted for inflation since 2009.”
This, he added, has led to a “huge influx” of people navigating the justice system unrepresented and without legal advice.
Furthermore, he said: “Many more people simply give up and live with injustice, which has a corrosive effect on people’s belief in the rule of law.”
He acknowledged the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has recognised these problems in its post-implementation review of LASPO in early 2019, but said government must “follow through on their commitment to reassess the availability of legal aid and give the public the access to justice they so clearly support”.
Jonathan Wheeler, managing partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp (BBK), responded: “It is of no surprise that the British public support access to justice – a cornerstone of our democratic society.
“We frequently see the State continuing to cause harm to individuals, families and communities, whilst it simultaneously erodes the availability of legal aid funding for those injured parties to properly hold them to account.
He said some may conclude that the state “simply doesn’t want to be held to account, and certainly doesn’t want to help citizens hold a light to their mistakes”.
He said for good governance to exist, this cannot be allowed to continue.
BBK’s head of adult brain injury Suzanne Trask, said the strict limit on the availability of legal aid in terms of both eligibility and the amount available often comes as a shock to those in need of help.
“It is unsurprising”, she said, “that the vast majority of clinical negligence cases are unable to be run to trial through legal aid.
“For those who are already suffering due to mistakes made by the NHS, the government then limiting their ability to seek justice is sadly a double blow.
“When the courts then penalise clients who seek alternative methods of funding their cases, the system needs to be re-examined, to ensure innocent parties are not unfairly impeded from bringing justified claims for life-changing injuries.”