“Legal Aid cuts will mean less human rights and may cost more”, say Bar Council
30 Sep, 2013
The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has today warned that the Government’s legal aid proposals will reduce human rights and may end up costing more than they intend to save. In a written submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) call for evidence on the human rights implications of the proposals in the ‘Transforming Legal Aid’ Consultation Paper, the Bar Council picks apart the Government’s evidence base for reform.
Focusing on the residence test for civil legal aid claimants, the removal of funding for cases with a ‘borderline’ possibility of success, changes to judicial review applications and restrictions on legal aid in prisons, Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, said:“We are deeply concerned that the Government’s legal aid reforms will restrict access to justice, rather than preserving or enhancing it. Some of the most vulnerable people in society will be subject to our laws but unable to claim their protection, just because they have lived here for less than a year. We believe that operates against the rule of law.
“Whether intentional or not, the proposals for judicial review will protect public bodies that may exceed or even abuse their power. When they make poor decisions and fail to operate in the public interest, it will be harder to challenge the legality of those decisions. We believe that also operates against the rule of law.
“The Government continues to pursue these cuts in the name of saving money. That may be a desirable aim, but it has consistently failed to provide comprehensive evidence that these proposals will in fact do so. It is more likely that the cost to taxpayers will be greater than any proposed savings. There can be little doubt that a significant rise in litigants-in-person, unable to obtain legal aid or afford a lawyer, will mean delays, appeals and risk miscarriages of justice. All of these will add cost to the system.
“It is not too late for the Government to look again at these issues and listen to the overwhelming number of voices of concern about the impact of its proposals.”