Letter #7

As a member of Amnesty International I receive emails asking me to sign petitions. This one chimed with me. Being on a low income, I would not be able to represent myself in court if I was attacked.

The response will be in the footer.

___________

Dear Andrew Jones,

I am disappointed to see the latest evidence suggesting that the reforms to legal aid introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 have had a significantly negative impact on access to justice and protection of human rights, in particular for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

I am writing to urge you immediately to conduct a review of those effects – recalling in particular that the government previously promised a review would be carried out.

On 11 October, Amnesty International released ‘Cuts That Hurt’, a report which examines the impact of civil legal aid cuts on access to justice in England. The changes essentially reversed the previous position, meaning that instead of being generally available in civil cases, subject to the merits of the legal case and the means of the person, legal aid is now generally not available, other than in a few narrow areas. There is also an ‘exceptional case funding scheme’ which aims to provide funding where refusal would breach the applicant’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Amnesty International’s report looks at those changes. It details some of the ways in which the loss of legal aid has made it substantially more difficult for people to access the legal advice and assistance that they need. It sets out how the cuts have led to a loss in early specialist legal advice and resulted in a reduced and uneven provision of free legal assistance across the country. It also examines the exceptional case funding provision and finds that inherent failings mean that the scheme does not in practice provide the promised safety net for vulnerable or disadvantaged people who are struggling to navigate complex legal processes and effectively advocate for their rights.

The report concludes that the cuts to civil legal aid have had a particularly serious and disproportionate impact on disadvantaged and marginalized people in the UK, who already experience the most obstacles in accessing justice and effectively claiming their rights. That includes vulnerable children, and also parents trying to resolve family disputes. The report also makes some not exhaustive suggestions for the kind of changes which Amnesty International believes could improve the situation.

I am concerned about ordinary people like myself and others whose access to justice is at risk. I join Amnesty International in respectfully urging the government to conduct an urgent review of the impact of the LASPO cuts on access to justice and protection of human rights, in particular for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.

Yours faithfully,

Andrew

One Comment

  1. Dear Mr. B________

    Thank you for contacting me about Legal Aid.

    I believe that maintaining access to justice and upholding the principle that those accused of a crime have the right to representation in their defence is vitally important; legal aid is an important part of our justice system but we must ensure it is sustainable.

    The Government’s programme of reform aims to delver faster and fairer justice for all citizens by speeding up the decision-making, giving parties the ability the ability to submit and consider information online, and considering issues proportionately. The Government has committed to invest in the technology that will underpin that. Despite the reductions made to the legal aid budget it remains at £1.6 billion, one of the most generous legal aid budgets in the world.

    The Government has decided to press ahead with the second 8.75 per cent reduction to litigators’ fees announced by the Coalition Government. After a thorough examination of the changes to the forecast legal aid expenditure, the existing market, provider withdraw rates and reasons, contract extension acceptance and early information from the duty provider contract tender, the Ministry of Justice is confident that the reforms so far have not had any substantial negative impact on the sustainability of the service.

    Having listened closely to the case put by the profession, the Government has decided not to reduce advocacy fees, opting instead to explore alternative ways of securing savings through greater efficiencies in criminal proceedings.

    Anyone accused of a crime will continue to have access to a legally-aided lawyer just as they do now. Changes will be closely monitored in order to ensure we preserve access to justice and high quality advocacy. The Government has stated it’s intention to review and assess the impact of the legislators’ fee reduction and the dual contracting model on access to justice and the quality of litigation and advocacy provision.

    We must make sure that criminal legal aid provides high quality legal advice to those that need it most, and I believe the steps the Government is taking will put the profession on a sustainable footing for the long term.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

    Yours sincerely,
    Andrew Jones MP

    Reply

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