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Access to justice denied by legal aid changes

Old Bailey and Lady Justice

The Law Society has stated that they believe the changes to the legal aid system - introduced in April 2013 - have denied hundreds of people access to justice as they simply cannot afford the legal services which were once free.

The legal aid reforms were introduced to reduce the cost of running the UK’s justice system, which currently stands at around £2 billion a year; these reforms included the end of automatic access to legal aid for people with a disposable income of over £37,500, a reduction of prisoners’ rights to claim against a prison or the system, a 30% cut to VHCC fees, a 17.5% cut in legal aid fees across the board, and caps on contracts for duty solicitors working in police stations. The government also planned to introduce a Price Competitive Tendering system (PCT) but this was later scrapped after consultations with and protests from law firms across the country.

The Law Society has said that people who were previously eligible for legal aid are now no longer automatically entitled to it and therefore many have been forced into representing themselves in court battles. Parents in custody battles were particularly hit by the legal changes due to financial strains of bringing up children, paying child allowances and paying for legal services.

Not an equal system

The Law Society has said that in some cases one party may have access to legal aid whereas the other may not, meaning the case is unequal and therefore unfair; in these cases the Law Society suggest both parties either have access to legal aid or none do, in the interests of fairness and justice.

A solicitor from the Law Society, Dylan Lloyd-Jones, has been critical of the legal aid changes, saying that:

"In many cases it is causing people to turn away from the justice system, which in effect is denying them access to justice. There was an intention once the changes came in, that mediation would be the saviour of all involved in the family court system. Sadly it hasn't worked".

He continued to say that the introduction of these changes by the UK Government had been handled poorly and that there was no ‘support framework’ for successful mediation. He also rebuffed claims that the Law Society opposed the legal aid changes because of solicitors still wishing to be paid through the legal aid system.

The Law Society believe that while many solicitors are going to lose income because of these changes, they’re against the system because it removes access to justice for many victims across the country more than because of the personal financial losses.

However, Justice Minister Shailesh Vara has rejected the claim that access to justice has been denied, saying:

“It is simply untrue to suggest that it is more difficult to access protection. Access to legal aid and the courts for protective injunctions is identical to the position prior to our reforms”.

We at Fonseca Law have always been against the changes to legal aid and feel that the government’s changes will see an increase in the number of people having to represent themselves in court. If you need legal advice please contact us today, you can trust our experienced team of solicitors to represent you fairly with your best interests in mind. Our goal is to win you the compensation you are entitled to!