Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Oct 12, 2016 20:19:16 GMT
Legal aid cuts have left ‘most vulnerable people’ unable to pursue justice
By Rob Merrick Deputy Political Editor 11th October 2016
The most vulnerable people in the country have lost the chance to pursue justice because of swingeing legal aid cuts, a damning study warns. Amnesty International has laid bare the full devastating impact of the withdrawal of funding for all but a narrow list of civil court cases, warning it has been “far worse than anticipated”. Its 48-page report highlights how the scrapping of early specialist legal advice has left people unable to get the help they need until they “reach crisis point”.
What is worse, the cuts have made large areas – across the South-west, the Midlands and the north, in particular – “advice deserts”, because free legal advice is disappearing altogether. And children are among the hardest hit by the changes, with official figures estimating there are a staggering 2,500 fewer immigration legal aid cases each year where children are claimants. Amnesty said its report made it essential that Theresa May announces an immediate review of the cuts, introduced three years ago – a review promised by April 2018.
As a starting point, all under-18s – a clear “vulnerable group”, unable to represent themselves in court – must be given legal aid, regardless of individual circumstances. Alice Wyss, Amnesty International’s UK researcher, said: “Cuts to legal aid imposed by this Government have decimated access to justice and left thousands of the most vulnerable without essential legal advice and support. We are in danger of creating a two-tier civil justice system, open to those who can afford it, but increasingly closed to the poorest and most in need of its protection.
“From parents fighting for access to their children, to those trying to stay in the country they have grown up in, to people with mental health problems at risk of homelessness, these cuts have hit the most vulnerable the most.” Amnesty interviewed 30 people who lost eligibility because of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo), as well as lawyers, law centres and organisations offering advice. It concluded “they felt intimidated, that they found it difficult to explain their case and that they struggled to understand the process and what the judge was telling them”.