JUSTICE considers that the proposals in Transforming Legal Aid are rushed, ill-considered and unsupported by evidence.
We regret that less than a year after the implementation of the last reforms in Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (“LASPO”), the Government is proposing a series of changes which fail to consider the important constitutional function of legal aid. Taken together, these changes could have a devastating impact on our justice system. In the name of austerity, the Government would undermine the centuries-old reputation of the United Kingdom courts as the home of fair, transparent and accessible justice for all. In the words of the late Lord Bingham, “denial of legal protection to the poor litigant who cannot afford to pay is [an] enemy of the rule of law.” (The Rule of Law, Allen Lane, London, 2010, page 88).
While any system of legal aid must be subject to proper administrative oversight – and cannot remain set in stone – it must remain independent, accessible and effective. We are concerned that the Government has not tested these proposals against this basic, internationally accepted, standard.
In our detailed response, we explain our view that the both sets of proposals on criminal and civil legal aid may be open to legal challenge on the basis that they may go beyond the scope of the powers delegated to Ministers and that they will directly conflict with Convention rights protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.
We are sceptical that the changes proposed can deliver the savings predicted as they will undoubtedly lead to further individual and systemic costs across the justice system and against other public budgets. None of the analysis conducted by Government has considered how the increased burden of many new litigants in person reaching our criminal and civil courts will impact on the public purse.
We encourage the Government to step back from its proposed short timetable for the consideration of responses to this Consultation Paper, and the implementation of speedy reform, to allow fuller time for reflection and analysis.
JUSTICE regrets that without such opportunity for pause, the changes proposed may irrevocably damage the reputation of our courts, will inevitably risk individual miscarriages of justice, and could undermine transparency, accountability and good administration by shielding Government from effective judicial oversight.