Our patron, Lord Willy Bach, recently published an interim report on the current state of access to justice and some policy recommendations for the future.
Some of the key findings of the report are here:
- ‘The number of law centres has halved between 2005 and 2015. From 2009-10 to 2013-14, there was a drop in 90 per cent of people getting access to legal advice or assistance for social welfare issues. Courts and tribunal fees are increasing, making it impossible for the poorest to access the legal system at all. Access to justice, and thus the rule of law, is under threat.’
- ‘The evidence suggests that legal aid enables disadvantaged groups to access justice, and it also saves the state money. Research focusing on the adverse consequences of civil problems shows that legal aid expenditure on housing, debt, benefits and employment advice is cost-effective in the long-run. This is because the provision of legal aid allows for early intervention and prevents the escalation of conflict and costly appeals. It also saves spending by the state on other services. For example, Citizens Advice found that for every £1 of legal aid expenditure on housing advice, the state potentially saves £2.34; and for every £1 of legal aid expenditure on benefits advice, the state potentially saves £8.80.’
- ‘Cuts continue to worsen the provision of legal advice, with Ministry of Justice research showing the number of not-for-profit legal advice centres fell from around 3,226 in 2005 to 1,462 by 2015. More than half of the 700 who responded to the Ministry of Justice survey reported that they had client groups who they were unable to help due to lack of resources, expertise, or because they fell outside the centre’s remit.
- ‘As with public legal education, inadequate investment in advice undermines the ability of people to access justice and is not cost-effective. New Economics Foundation research estimated that the social return for advice given by law centres for complex problems could be up to £10 for every £1 spent.15 Likewise, the Low Commission write that they see, “social welfare law as a spectrum or continuum including public legal education, informal and formal information, general advice, specialist advice, legal help and legal representation. The more preventive work we can do at the beginning of this continuum, the less we should have to do at the end”.’
- ‘As technological innovation continues its advance into the professions, the legal system must seize the opportunities it presents. The justice sector must look to the future, imagining how technology will continue to develop apace in the years to come and design a system for the long term in the context of low levels of funding. But this does not mean accepting technology as the whole solution. As many witnesses have pointed out to the Commission, face-to-face contact is irreplaceable. While Professor Susskind suggests as little as 3 per cent of the population are without internet access, research from the Legal Education Foundation found only 50 per cent of those entitled to civil legal aid pre-2013 would be willing and able to operate online. People facing the type of legal problems for which legal aid is needed are much less likely to be able to utilise the internet to resolve their problems. As the Legal Education Foundation note, it “certainly cannot be assumed that effective access simply equates with access to the internet.”‘
You can read the full report here.