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Friday, 14 October 2011

Sleeping bag my Lord?

The Government has said that the cuts to Legal Aid are due to general savings required across the economy. I have already discussed in an earlier blog whether these are real savings.

In fact the cost of justice to the taxpayer could significantly increase. In the Law Society Gazette for 13 October there is a report about a big rise in litigants in person. In the Principal Registry of the Family Division in London this is reported to be as high as 19%. That is within the system as it currently exists. Once access to lawyers is significantly restricted then that this figure is bound to rise.

For example it will only be possible to obtain legal aid in the case of domestic violence if there is some objective evidence of physical violence. In other family cases it will be virtually possible to obtain legal aid. This will clearly mean that anybody seeking the protection of the law will have to go through the intimidating experience of attending court without any legal representation – when they are already vulnerable. However, in addition to that as there is bound to be a massive increase in the time that it will take for cases to be dealt with by the courts. A reasonable estimate is that it would take twice as long for the court to deal with the case involving an unrepresented party. So will this means more judges? Will it mean longer opening hours for the courts? Judges with sleeping bags? Or will it mean parties waiting longer for justice? Any possible savings by way of cutting legal aid will be wiped out those additional costs.

In addition the there is likely to be a marked increase in the demands placed on Members of Parliament and Local Councillors. One can imagine surgeries becoming crowded with unhappy constituents. This again is likely to involve a further time and cost.

People will still need to have their cases heard by the courts. Whether they are those seeking protection from domestic violence, those are seeking to protect their own income due to welfare benefit cuts, those who wish to protect the rights of themselves and family to stay in this country etc. These cases will not go away. The result will be that our justice system will become more overloaded, even slower and ultimately more expensive.

End of rant.

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