Access to justice barred for most people in Britain

21 June 2011

Under new legislation published today, publicly funded legal advice and representation will be put beyond the reach of vast swathes of the British population.

In particular there is to be no legal aid for partners embroiled in bitter child custody disputes, disabled people attempting to grapple with changes to the welfare benefits system and families struggling with debt in the deepest economic recession since the 1930s.

Post-war governments in Britain believed that universal access to justice was as important as access to education and healthcare. Today, the Coalition Government proposes to ensure that court doors in England and Wales are effectively locked to anyone other than criminal defendants and the super-rich.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

“The Government says – we are all in this together - but how many MPs would choose to go to court without a lawyer if their partner denied them access to their child? Is it right that only criminal defendants and professional footballers should get legal advice? Politicians have spent years wagging their fingers at “fat cat lawyers” but today’s slap in the face goes to ordinary families, children and disabled people.”

Access - areas where access to justice will be denied include:

  • Disabled people will be disproportionately hit by the removal of welfare benefits advice - disabled clients represent 63% of legally aided clients in the welfare benefits system.
  • Family law advice will be denied to parents in the vast majority of cases.
  • Victims of crime left physically injured or emotionally scarred by violent attacks will no longer get legal help to make applications to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
  • Legal advice provision for debt matters will be removed.

Eligibility - In the few areas where legal aid remains, only the very poorest will have access:

  • Lowering of income eligibility thresholds will mean that those on very modest incomes will have to choose between defending their rights and serious financial hardship.
  • Whereas those with the means will employ top legal teams, ordinary people will be forced to represent themselves.

False economies – financial savings will be short term only

  • Our courts will be thrown into chaos by litigants in person with no legal knowledge.  Judges will be turned into social workers as they are forced to deal with non-legal issues.
  • Issues which could have been dealt with earlier with simple advice will be left to escalate. Short term savings will lead to long term cost burdens.

 Contact: Liberty’s press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831 128 

Notes to editors

1. Liberty’s response to the Ministry of Justice consultation on legal aid