In November 2010 the coalition government announced its plans to abolish Legal Aid for the majority of non-criminal legal problems. This attack on access to justice and the rule of law had no mandate – no party manifesto had even hinted it – and no precedent. Every area of assistance not directly engaging ECHR rights was to be removed. The Government itself admits over 600,000 cases per year will no longer be funded.
Two years of campaigning and resistance followed. Despite being defeated an unprecedented number of times in the House of Lords, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (“LASPO”) passed and came into force this month, coinciding exactly with the introduction of many welfare “reforms”. Whatever your views on the coalition government’s austerity agenda, it is now abundantly clear that equality before the law is no longer a statutory principle of our society. The likely impact on social cohesion of both welfare reform and turning the justice clock back to the pre-Beveridge 1940s will be profound.
However, LASPO does more than abolish the right to professional advice and assistance for those who could never afford to buy justice. It represents the end of many of the careers of those who have dedicated their lives to working for fees that have been kept static for two decades. It squanders precious resources built up over 60 years of consistent public funding of legal advice. We at ilegal, set up 7 years ago by and for these front-line expert advisers and lawyers, were determined to try and capture the destruction being wreaked on our people, many of whom work long hours in Citizens Advice Bureaux, Law Centres and specialist advice agencies, yet whose expertise was repeatedly rubbished by Ministers during the LASPO debates.
We are deeply grateful to the highly respected Centre for Human Rights in Practice at the University of Warwick for agreeing to study this issue for us within a very short timeframe. We are also in awe of the energy, diligence and commitment of Natalie Byrom, who led the research and authored this report.
We hope it adds to the appreciation of the significant social value of properly funded legal advice, underscores the importance of rebuilding equality of access to the law and renews the determination of the sector to provide it. We believe its findings must make everyone consider one key question: if we truly want our society to be a fair and civilised one, what price justice?
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Apr 8, 2013 3:06:40 GMT
An excellent and well researched piece of work.
Full credit to Natalie, Patrick and Colin.
The report made very interesting reading, I wonder how much those now affected by redundancy have contributed to the economy over the many years of experience potentially lost here. For every £1 spent in say welfare benefit cases (Citizens Advice research) the State saved £8.80.
The financial 'savings' imposed by these illogical cuts will be completely negated by the much greater savings to the public purse which would have been achieved had these cuts not been imposed.
Survey: not-for-profits eye charging for advice to survive LASPO
Byrom: charging could have drastic implications
Nearly a fifth of not-for-profit legal advice centres are planning to charge for services as a strategy to survive cuts in legal aid, a study into the impact of the reforms has revealed.
But the study, by University of Warwick Centre for Human Rights in Practice researcher Natalie Byrom, in conjunction with legal aid and social welfare law website ilegal, found widespread fear of redundancy across the sector.
The survey was carried out during February, just before the civil legal aid cuts in the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) came into force on 1 April. Some 674 individuals working in legal aid-funded civil law participated. More than a quarter (28.8%) reported they were at risk of redundancy.
Nearly one in five (17.7%) of not-for-profit sector respondents said their agency’s funding strategy after the legal aid cuts included a move to charging for advice. This has been possible since restrictions on charging by in-house lawyers employed by not-for-profit organisations were finally lifted at the end of February as part of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’sred tape challenge. The Legal Services Board has pressed hard for the change.
Ms Byrom said: “Depending on how this is implemented, the move to a charging model could have drastic implications for the sector and the individuals it currently serves. For many not-for-profit providers, this would mark a departure into unknown territory.”
In other findings, the survey found that areas outside of London and the south-east would be disproportionately affected by reductions in legal advice services – reinforcing warnings of ‘advice deserts’.
More than half of respondents who said their service was “very likely to close” this year were from the north of England. The midlands, south-west and Wales are also thought to be similarly affected.
Among advice workers most likely to be made redundant, highly-qualified women are expected to be disproportionately at risk. Of those workers who have worked in the sector for more than eight years and hold the highest qualifications, more than two-thirds are women but comprised 87.5% of those who reported being at risk of redundancy.
There could be job losses for close to a third of legal aid lawyers and advisers as firms close or cut services, creating ‘advice deserts’ across the country in the wake of the legal aid cuts, according to a report published today.
According to an online survey of 670 legal aid workers, following the £350m cuts that came into force last week, 29% of respondents said they are at risk of redundancy. The research was conducted by Warwick University’s Centre for Human Rights in Practice and the ilegal website.
The most experienced specialist advisers and those with over 10 years’ experience are most at risk.
Overall, 7% of respondents believed their firm or agency was ‘likely to close completely in 2013’ as a result of the cuts, and 25% estimated they could close in the next two years.
Some 55% said they would reduce the amount of specialist casework they offered, and 24% said they would cease to provide specialist casework.
The impact on the legal profession will be felt nationwide, but the survey shows that the north of England, the Midlands, the south-west and Wales are likely to be disproportionately affected.
Half of respondents who said their service is ‘very likely to close completely in 2013’ were from the north. 22% who said they could close in 2013-2015 were in the Midlands and 19% of those who said they would end specialist casework were from the south-west.
The report’s author Natalie Byrom said: ‘Legal advice services are most heavily concentrated in London and the south-east of England. But our survey found that it is the rest of the UK that will be disproportionately affected by reductions in legal advice services.’
Post by Colin Henderson on Apr 8, 2013 12:39:56 GMT
The survey report was welcomed today by the Low Commission, the body tasked with reviewing the advice sector.
Richard Gutch, Secretary to the Low Commission on the Future of Advice and Legal Support, said: "We welcome this survey, which is the first to be published since the legal aid cuts were introduced. It will provide the Commission with valuable evidence to draw on as we develop a strategy for the future provision of Social Welfare Law advice. We would be interested to hear from others about how they are being affected by the cuts."
The Commission are still taking evidence under the following headings: - The expected and the actual impact of the cuts - The role of advice - The background policy changes affecting Social Welfare Law - The lessons from legal aid - How to reduce the demand for advice and support - Different ways of delivering advice and support - Different ways of funding advice and support - How to improve the ways of resolving disputes
It welcomes the inclusion of case studies and examples to illustrate the submissions where appropriate.
A University of Warwick report published this month interviewed 674 people working in legal aid funded civil law earlier this year and found 64.4 per cent at risk of redundancy were specialist advisors.
Just over 98 per cent of the people who said they were at risk of redundancy worked on areas of law that included either housing, debt and money, employment or welfare and benefits.
The report said: ‘Advisors in the areas of housing, debt and welfare beneﬁts, where the recession and spending cuts have led to increased demand for legal advice, are also at greater risk of redundancy than those who advise in other areas of law.’
Sixty legal professionals who worked on debt and money were at risk of redundancy, 65 on welfare benefits and 45 who cover housing. This compares with, for example, nine who work on immigration and asylum and seven who work on discrimination.
It found that across the board – in all areas of legal aid funding – those in the north of England were likely to be hit hardest, where 50 per cent of respondents said their service was ‘very likely to close completely in 2013’.
The report, The state of the sector: The impact of cuts to civil legal aid on practitioners and their clients, warns of the creation of ‘advice deserts’ in areas where there are already scarce resources.
Homelessness charity Shelter had to close nine face-to-face advice centres because of the cuts to legal aid at the end of last month.
The Ministry of Justice made the cuts, coming in this month, to reduce the legal aid budget by £350 million from its annual £2.2 billion spending by 2014/15. This removes public funding from many areas of civil law.
Coverage on Marilyn Stowe's blog (resident legal expert on ITV's This Morning):
Legal aid could result in ‘advice deserts’, study suggests
‘Advice deserts’ have been predicted in different regions of the country following the introduction oflegal aid cuts earlier this month.
A recent survey of 674 people working in legal aid-funded family and civil law suggests that some parts of the country will be hit particularly hard by the cuts. No less than half the respondents who said that their service was likely to close completely during 2013 came from the north of England. Meanwhile, a higher than expected number of respondents saying their services was likely to close over the next two years were based in the Midlands.
People living in rural areas, children, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged were likely to hardest hit by the cuts, the professionals claimed.
The respondents worked in both the not-for-profit sector and private practice. A number said they were trying to protect their existing clients from the full impact of the cuts, reducing their overheads and applying for other funding.
A foreword by Patrick Torsney and Patrick Henderson of website ilegal claims that the legal aid cuts “had no mandate” and that they indicate that “equality before the law is no longer a statutory principle of our society.”
The foreword adds:
“The likely impact on social cohesion of both welfare reform and turning the justice clock back to the pre-Beveridge 1940s will be profound.”