A report published last week by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Enforcing Human Rights, highlighted “grave concerns for access to justice, the rule of law, and enforcement of human rights in the UK” caused by cuts, making enforcement of human rights “simply unaffordable” for some of the most vulnerable people. The chair of the joint committee, Harriet Harman MP, summarised the report, highlighting how a “lack of access to justice” has eroded individuals’ basic rights in key areas such as housing. The report calls on the Government to review legal aid cuts and to reform the stringent financial eligibility requirements with a view to providing access to justice to a larger proportion of the population. Read the full report here.
The challenge of tackling ‘advice deserts’ in the current environment was further highlighted last week by the Suffolk Law Centre. Writing in Legal Action, Douglas Johnson describes how the Centre recently won a legal aid contract in housing, which would allow it to deliver much needed legal advice for local residents in desperate situations. However, despite great efforts the Centre has so far been unable to recruit a housing solicitor who meets the Legal Aid Agency’s requirement and can show that they have spent at least 350 hours working on a range of housing cases for each of the last three years. The reason? Legal aid cuts have caused a housing ‘advice desert’ and, once lost, experienced and qualified Legal Aid solicitors are very hard to replace.
Both these developments bring into sharp relief the current crisis in access to justice. The Committee’s report is further proof of a growing coalition of politicians, lawyers, charities and activists acknowledging the injustice and unsustainability of the current situation. With the upcoming Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) post-implementation review – the legislation imposing many of the harshest legal aid cuts – we are entering a critical stage in our fight to restore legal aid. This report is another important step towards restoring access to justice for all. There is no guarantee legal aid cuts will be reversed, but we hope the Government will take the Committee’s views on board.
The Greater Manchester Law Centre, fighting for access to justice in all ten boroughs in the metropolitan area, will be one of many organisations submitting evidence on the devasting impact these cuts have had. We will be highlighting the creation of ‘advice deserts’ where many of the most vulnerable members of our community are unable to access free face to face, high quality legal advice and representation. We see first hand, day to day the devastating impact these cuts have had on people in our community – security in their homes and jobs and access to the welfare benefits they desperately need and are entitled to.
This article was written by Tom Goldup, GMLC campaign and research volunteer, current LPC student and former visiting lecturer at King’s College London.
 Joint Committee on Human Rights, Tenth Report of Session 2017-19, ‘Enforcing human rights’, para 83
 Ibid, Summary pg 3