FIND YOUR VOICE (30)
Legal aid, how many of us know what it is and who can get it?
Lots of stories get heavy coverage in the media and others seem to slip by, the story on legal aid in this country is a long one. So as always we need to look at the past to see the future.
What is legal aid?
Legal aid is the provision of assistance to people otherwise unable to afford legal representation and access to the court system. Legal aid is regarded as central in providing access to justice by ensuring equality before the law, the right to counsel and the right to a fair trial.
Legal aid can help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal.
Legal aid is essential to guaranteeing equal access to justice for all, as provided for by Article 6.3 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding criminal law cases. Especially for citizens who do not have sufficient financial means, the provision of legal aid to clients by governments will increase the likelihood, within court proceedings, of being assisted by legal professionals for free (or at a lower cost) or of receiving financial aid.
Legal aid has a close relationship with the welfare state, and the provision of legal aid by a state is influenced by attitudes towards welfare. Legal aid is a welfare provision by the state to people who could otherwise not afford counsel from the legal system. Legal aid also helps to ensure that welfare provisions are enforced by providing people entitled to welfare provisions, such as social housing, with access to legal advice and the courts.
Historically legal aid has played a strong role in ensuring respect for economic, social and cultural rights which are engaged in relation to social security, housing, social care, health and education service provision, which may be provided publicly or privately, as well as employment law and anti-discrimination legislation.
So why has the government been attacking and chipping away at the foundations of this important tool to justice? This issue has not received the media attention it deserves, but good news is, the very people it affects apart from the general public are lawyers.
The average law firm makes a large portion of its income from legal aid and there for the government has taken on the law profession.
Now, the government can take on the teachers and be quite successful they have taken on Doctors with not great success but to take on Lawyers well good luck.
There was a swell of support for direct action follows mass meetings across England and Wales. Fees for duty solicitors to attend magistrate’s courts and police stations will fall by 8.75% on 1 July; a similar cut was imposed last year.
Criminal solicitors warn that the introduction of new legal aid contracts, due to come into force in January, will force the closure of many law firms, causing mass redundancies. With the disappearance of experienced lawyers, they argue, the quality of representation will fall and there will be more miscarriages of justice.
Victims of domestic violence are being forced to confront their abusers in court due to cuts in legal aid, the court of appeal has been told.
Ministry of Justice restrictions on funding courtroom support are leading to vulnerable women having to appear in the family courts without being legally represented, the court has heard.
One woman, who had been raped and beaten by her former husband, was refused legal aid for a hearing where he was applying for contact with their children, it was alleged. The woman, referred to as M, suffered a psychological relapse after she attended the court unrepresented. Only then, after obtaining a GP’s report, was she granted legal assistance, three appeal court judges were told.
But thankfully with mounting pressure Cuts to legal aid fees for duty criminal solicitors who represent suspects in police stations and magistrates courts are to be suspended, Michael Gove, the justice secretary, has announced in the department’s latest policy U-turn.
As well as surrendering the 8.75% fee cut, a controversial contract-tendering procedure which would restrict the number of law firms permitted to do duty legal work is also to be abandoned, the Ministry of Justice confirmed.
This is great news but unfortunately many areas of law have already felt the cuts including Employment. It is virtually impossible to find an employment law solicitor who does not work on a no win no fee arrangement as legal aid is nonexistent except in very rear cases.
No doubt the government will try another way to cut legal services to poor and low paid people. As always don’t stay silent, please,
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