Legal aid news – 11 Nov 2014

  • Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, accused the government of creating an unthinkable, unconscionable and unjust situation whereby the parents of a two year old boy have to respond to a local authority’s application for their son to be adopted outside the family without legal representation because they are (just) financially ineligible for legal aid. The judgment was reported by the Guardian, the Sunday Times (£), the Independent, the Telegraph, LegalVoice and the Law Society Gazette and generated significant commentary on Twitter. Munby said the state “has simply washed its hands of the problem”, leaving the solution to the charity of the legal profession as the parents’ solicitor represented them pro bono. Munby directed a further hearing to consider whether funding for the parents’ representation should be provided by one, some or all of the local authority, the legal aid fund or Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.
  • The Guardian also reported on another family law case in which the judge, Louise Hallam, said that refusal of legal aid to parents involved in custody battles will create injustices. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan is quoted as calling for “an urgent review of the impact of the government’s legal aid cuts”, speaking of the “havoc wreaked in our courts by the government’s ruthless attacks on access to justice”.
  • However, speaking at the Criminal Law Solicitors Association annual conference, Mr Khan’s colleague, the Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter, said that a Labour government after the general election would not be able to reverse legal aid cuts made by the coalition. Labour would not, however, proceed with the second planned 8.75% cut to criminal legal aid fees without first reviewing its “impact and coherence”. Mr Slaughter’s comments were reported by the Law Society Gazette.
  • National Pro Bono Week took place from 3-7 November, and LawWorks published a report, covered by LegalVoice, which found that pro bono work is a “drop in the ocean” compared to the cuts to legal aid made by LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012). Sir Nigel Knowles of DLA Piper wrote for The Lawyer about how to improve pro bono work, while recognising that it “will never be able to meet the emerging demand” and stating that the legal profession “has rightly been focused on opposing substantial cuts to the legal aid budget”. Research by the Law Society confirmed that pro bono work has increased “as the profession strives to sustain access to justice in the wake of government cuts”.
  • BBC News reported on the “turbo boost” for the market in fee-charging McKenzie friends (unqualified advisers who supported unrepresented litigants in court) brought about by the government’s legal aid cuts. The Ministry of Justice also announced a scheme worth £1.4m per year to provide support for unrepresented litigants in civil and family law cases.
  • The London Review of Books recently carried this detailed article about the purported justifications for legal aid cuts, titled ‘Necessity or Ideology?’, which concludes that the reforms “reveal the government’s disdain for the rights of the least advantaged”.
  • The Economist published this article about how the justice system is struggling to adapt to legal aid cuts in the age of austerity.
  • And finally, the Hackney Citizen carried this interview with Diane Morrison from Hackney Community Law Centre, who was recently awarded the in-house solicitor of the year award by the Law Society. Hackney Community Law Centre also featured heavily in a piece on East London Lines about how cuts to legal aid are affecting “ordinary working people”.