Open letter to Theresa May

Young Legal Aid Lawyers, Legal Aid Practitioners Group and Legal Action Group have sent an open letter to the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, welcoming her vision of "a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us" and calling on the government to review the impact of legal aid cuts on access to justice. The full letter is below:

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Dear Prime Minister

Congratulations on your appointment. We wish you well and commend your vision of "a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us". We hope you will agree that such a society cannot exist without equal access to justice for everyone who needs to protect and enforce their rights. As lawyers, in recent years we have seen first hand the devastating impact of legal aid cuts and vastly increased court fees on the ability of ordinary people, including our often vulnerable clients, to obtain justice.

The Hillsborough inquests demonstrated the vital role that lawyers play in securing accountability for state failings and justice for victims. We therefore applaud your decision, as Home Secretary, to ensure that the families of the 96 people who tragically lost their lives at Hillsborough could benefit from publicly funded legal representation. It is regrettable that legal aid is not automatically provided to all families at inquests where a public body has been involved in the death of their parent, child, sibling or partner.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 ('LASPO') wholly or partially removed areas of law such as housing, debt, welfare benefits and private family law from the scope of legal aid. This has resulted in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people being denied meaningful access to justice. The government has repeatedly said it will carry out a review to assess the full impact of the reforms and cuts to legal aid introduced by LASPO after three years.

It has now been just over three years since LASPO came into force, and the latest statistics published by the Legal Aid Agency demonstrate the huge reduction in the number of cases funded by legal aid. In 2012-13, prior to the implementation of LASPO, 724,243 civil law cases were funded by legal aid; in 2015-16, the statistics reveal that this figure has fallen to just 258,460 cases. This is a picture of justice denied; of ordinary people cut off from the justice system.

We therefore call on you and your Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, to fulfil the government's commitment to review LASPO at the earliest opportunity. The review must fairly and objectively assess the impact of legal aid cuts on access to justice. We believe it is vital for the government to ensure that nobody is denied access to justice based on their ability to pay.

Oliver Carter and Rachel Francis, co-chairs of Young Legal Aid Lawyers
Jenny Beck and Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hons), co-chairs of Legal Aid Practitioners Group
Steve Hynes, Director of Legal Action Group