Legal aid cuts to blame, research finds
The majority of those in the legal profession believe the reduction in legal aid availability is a major reason for the decline in access to justice, according to a study by the Law Society of England and Wales.
When the Society interviewed its 1,961 members in 2022, it found that 64% felt that access to justice for civil and criminal matters has worsened in the last decade. Almost two in three respondents cited cost and reduction in legal aid as responsible for this change.
“We are hearing from those with first-hand experience of working in the legal sector that the fundamental right to access to justice has become more and more difficult to uphold over the last ten years,” said Law Society president Lubna Shuja.
“Consistent underfunding of the justice system in the ten years since crushing legal aid cuts were introduced in 2013 means that people are all too often not able to get the support they need if they are unable to afford private legal fees. Over the past ten years there has been a 41% decrease in magistrates’ court representation,” continued Shuja, citing statistics from Legal Aid Statistics Quarterly.
Finally, Shuja added: “Solicitors’ perspectives on how government policy has weakened the UK’s rule of law are similarly damning. Our research shows that 61% of our members are concerned about the impact recent government policy (over the past two years) has had.”
The finding follows the Law Society’s High Court application for permission to challenge the government’s historic cuts to criminal legal aid. Prior to the cuts, an independent review had recommended an immediate 15% fee increase to support criminal legal aid.
A previous Law Society survey reported by Legal Cheek found that 81% of junior lawyers were put off pursuing a long-term career in crime by low pay, long hours and poor work/life balance.