YLAL has sent in our response to the latest Government proposals to "reform" the legal aid system. The full response can be accessed here. Read about the background to the proposals here. Thank you to all our members who contributed to our response.
The deadline to respond to the consultation is 4 June (TODAY), so get a move on, there is still time to tell the Ministry of Justice exactly what you think of their proposals!
As a group, we are opposed to this latest round of cuts. This consultation was published a little over a week after the sweeping cuts and changes to legal aid contained within the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) came into force. In the foreword to the consultation, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling evinces an intention to put an end to legal aid lawyers “racking up large fees”, clamp down on “frivolous claims”, and to generally restore the credibility of the system in the eyes of the public.
Against this backdrop, firstly, we strongly object to the timing of the consultation. The cuts contained within LASPO constitute some of the most radical changes to the legal aid scheme since its inception in 1948. It is wholly inappropriate to propose further systemic change one week after these cuts came into force. Until the new changes have had time to bed-in it is simply not possible to accurately gauge the money which these latest proposals will save or the impact which they will have on access to justice for those who cannot afford to pay.
Secondly, we reject the notion that these proposals are designed to clamp down on “fat cat lawyers”. Ultimately these proposals will harm the vulnerable clients who we work with on a daily basis more than anyone else. Where the proposals do directly address the level of remuneration for lawyers, it is more likely that the effect will be felt most keenly by low-earning junior lawyers at the beginning of their careers. It is essential that there is a supply of committed legal aid lawyers willing to carry out crucial work for the most vulnerable people. Without a next generation of legal aid lawyers committed to carrying out this socially valuable work, the system cannot function.
Thirdly, we do not accept the Government’s assertion that legal aid is being used to subsidise frivolous cases at the expense of the taxpayer. The Government has produced no evidence to support its assertion. Any attempt to curb citizens’ access to justice should only be based on a sound body of evidence. Such evidence is distinctly lacking from the consultation.
Finally, we do not accept that the proposals contained within this consultation will promote the credibility of the legal aid system in the eyes of the public. It is self-evident that any proposals which undermine the rule of law – as these do – can only undermine the credibility of the legal aid system.