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Legal Aid Cuts – Inequality Today, Societal Problems Tomorrow

Sometimes it is very difficult to actually believe the maxim that “as one door closes, another one opens”. The Legal Aid landscape recently has been presented with a succession of closing doors, which not only remain closed, but seem to be double locked and bolted also! It is always tempting to look back at the past through rose tinted spectacles, but Legal Aid in the United Kingdom over the course of the last 50 years has gone from being a spectacle to behold to a debacle to withhold. The proposed cuts to the Legal Aid budget make eye-watering reading. Thankfully, campaigners have vowed to continue the fight to preserve the past.

It is an unchallengeable truism that the reduction and restriction of Legal Aid will ultimately lead to a situation where the State can act with impunity. How can State departments be held to account, if citizens do not have access to the courts whilst being backed by professional legal representation?. The Sound Off For Justice campaign has released a report showing that the cuts will remove direct, free legal aid advice and support from a significant number of young adults and teenagers. The cuts will affect hundreds of thousands of children whose parents will be denied legal aid for family, welfare benefits and housing cases.

Cutting the Legal Aid budget represents the proverbial “false economy”. Cases will be litigated, which shouldnt have even got to court, litigants in person will take twice as long to do things and mistakes take time to be rectified before the case can be put on track again. All of this is likely to swallow up any savings that are made. According to figures supplied by the Ctizens’ Advice Bureau, for every pound of Legal Aid spent on benefits advice, the State saves up to £8.80, and for every pound of Legal Aid spent on employment advice, the State saves up to £7.13. It’s a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Apart from the hard finances, there is also the question of the human cost of injustices, familial and social problems, exploitation of the “little man” and systemic failures which go unaddressed.

Equality before the law can only be achieved if there is equal access to the law. A report by the Commission of Inquiry into Legal Aid states “There can be no semblance of equality before the law when those who cannot afford to pay a lawyer privately go unrepresented.” Inequality today will lead to societal problems tomorrow. Societal problems which can be avoided, should be avoided. This can be achieved by maintaining a Legal Aid system, which not only allows effective access to justice, but also enables the citizen to properly challenge injustice.

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