Bar Council Warns against DIY law
The Bar Council has today warned that legal aid cuts could cost more than they save and that an increase in ‘DIY Justice’ will gridlock the courts.
The claim follows a forensic examination of the Government?s Green Paper on legal aid, carried out by the Bar Council, which found that Ministry of Justice proposals to cut legal aid could cost more than proposed saving and have a devastating effect on access to justice.
The Bar Council?s response to the legal aid consultation will be handed in to the Ministry of Justice today. It will show that a wholesale withdrawal of legal aid in some practice areas means there is almost certain to be a significant increase in ?litigants in person?, as more people have to go to court alone to fight their case.
The Bar?s response, which reflects the views of all the Circuits in England and Wales and numerous Specialist Bar Associations, is the culmination of a three-month review of the Government?s proposals by a multi-disciplined working party, which included leading commercial, criminal and family QCs along with statisticians, economists and academics.
Stephen Cobb QC, Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, who led the Bar Council?s response, said:
?We fear these attempted cuts, being so crude and brutal, will cost more than they save. They will trigger a surge in DIY litigants which risks gridlock in the courts, as they struggle to get justice.
?This will slow down the court process considerably. In the absence of proper or reliable evidence on which the proposals are based, and our identification of clear unintended consequences, the Government cannot say with any confidence that the proposed cuts will not end up costing as much as it is trying to save. Put simply, the proposals don?t add up.
?We think that the effects on the administration of justice and the running of the courts, and the burden on other departments – most notably the Department of Health – could cost the Government sums approximating to the sums it is trying to save.
?The future quality and diversity of the legal profession will also suffer, as young barristers, already burdened with the debts of their education, will be forced to leave publicly funded practice, as it fails to offer a financially viable career path.
?Reducing the scope of legal aid, and thereby removing whole areas of advice and representation from disadvantaged consumers, will result in DIY litigation. More people will face courtroom ordeals, without the benefit of experienced lawyers to advise them as to their rights and guide them through court procedures. Instead, where would-be litigants may be advised not to bring a claim, or to settle, they will turn to the courts alone. The impact on the court system will be longer trials, more appeals, more costs and the risk of miscarriages of justice.
?Worse still, without the help and support of a proper system of legal aid, vulnerable people whose rights have been infringed may not be in a position to pursue those rights at all. This is not the type of justice that a civilised society should expect.
?The proposals are contrary to the regulatory objectives underpinning the recent legal services reforms, not least the objective of improving access to justice.?