There has been debate around the possibility of cuts to legal aid for some months, with many people opposing the impact these cuts could have on ordinary people in need of legal representation. Now, lawyers and legal groups with a professional interest in the area of legal aid have formed a new group to oppose the potential cuts.
The new group, known as the National Justice Committee, and it is made up of a number of member organisations. These include the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, Criminal Bar Association, Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, Justice Alliance and the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association. The Bar Council and the Law Society will also be in attendance, but in the capacity of observers rather than participators.
A statement was issued to announce the formation of this group. The statement said that the committee “notes the devastating effects of legal aid cuts and restrictions in social welfare law, family law and immigration law.”
The statement went on to say that the new committee “opposes all further legal aid cuts and proposals to weaken the ability of the ordinary citizen to challenge unlawful decision-making.” It suggested that if the cuts to legal aid go through, they “will diminish our social fabric by reducing access to justice.”
The group has also described the proposed cuts as “unnecessary and counter-productive.” It has claimed to be able to provide evidence in support of claims that these cuts would not ultimately result in savings, and that there were ways that savings could be achieved without making such cuts.
During the months that these issues have been under discussion, concerns have emerged over the sufficiency of legal aid even in its current form. For example, in the later part of 2013 it emerged that legal aid remains inaccessible to over 50% of domestic violence victims. Strict rules around requirements for certain forms of “qualifying evidence” prevent many victims from qualifying for legal aid. There are concerns this may lead to them being unable to seek legal assistance at all, and perhaps feeling unable to escape abusive relationships.
When such concerns are leading many to believe that legal aid should be rolled out to more people, concerns about the effects of cutting the available funds become even keener.
The new National Justice Committee now intends to set a date for a day of protest action, expected to take place sometime in late February or early March. There was previously a half-day of protest action held earlier this month.