Do you think justice and legal aid is being given enough airtime on the General Election 2015 campaign trail?
The last year of the current government has seen the legal aid budget slashed by £220m a year, the privatisation of the probation system and drastically hiked court fees. While the Ministry of Justice claimed that cuts were intended ‘to help make the legal aid system more sustainable while ensuring anyone suspected of a crime has access to a legally aided lawyer of their choosing, just as they do now’, the reality has been quite different. Shortsighted reforms have angered legal professionals and the public alike. Many feel that the general public is being ‘priced out’ of justice, and that public justice itself is at risk.
Justice needs to be a strong talking point in the lead up to the general election on May 7th.
Is Public Justice in Crisis?
If ex-prosecutor Sir Keir Starmer is right and ‘access to justice is in crisis,’ then justice should be at the forefront of proposals for a new government. Speaking to The Independent, the former director of public prosecutions has criticised Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s recent reforms, and calls for a complete review of the justice system in the UK.
“We ought to have a review of our justice system and the funding of it. There needs to be pause and whatever emerges must be a values-led approach – in other words, access to justice must be a yardstick against which we measure success.”
Like many barristers, Starmer is angered by coalition cuts to the British legal system. He argues that the coalition government has made drastic and sweeping cuts without thorough analysis and understanding of the system. The National Audit Office has also come out in opposition to the cuts. They are a false economy, they argue, as defendants appearing in court without legal representation cause long and costly delays.
“The big mistake of this government is they moved to cutting before they’d done the analysis.”
Hiked court fees and reduced access to legal aid mean that victims and offenders are simply not getting the support they deserve. Victims are being turned away from legal representation, legal aid firms are closing and law students are having to pick up the cases that legal aid lawyers can’t.
“The legal aid cuts are removing the forgotten pillar of our welfare state”
The valuable support that barristers and solicitors provide inevitably costs money, so taking away support for those who can’t meet the costs creates a hierarchical legal system, and tragically denies victims access to the justice they deserve.
Parties hoping to earn the support of the legal industry and the general public in the upcoming election should pursue a complete review of judicial spending, and a reversal of crippling cuts made by the coalition.
What changes would you like to see to the judicial system in the next government? Tweet us @CBS_IT!