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Judges criticise legal aid cuts

15th Jun 2014

The most senior judges in the country have blamed cuts in legal aid for a surge of problems in the court system, including unrepresented claimants, outbreaks of courtroom violence, additional litigation and increased costs.

In a written submission to MPs, the Judicial Executive Board suggests that the Ministry of Justice’s policies aiming to reduce the legal aid bill may have been counter-productive.

The board comprises of the most senior judges in England and Wales.  Their evidence has been sent to the Common justice select committee, which is looking into the effect of changes introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2010.  The committee has published the written submissions it has received online.

According to the judges, one of the worst effects has been on security in courts.  Sometimes there are outbreaks of violence between litigants, particularly in smaller courts which are not equipped to deal with such events.  In one incident last year at Southend county court, an estranged father attacked his wife in the middle of a hearing.

The judges also claim that there has been a large increase in the number of cases where one or both parties are without legal representation.

“The apparent saving of cost by a reduction in the legal aid budget needs to be viewed in context: often it simply leads to increased cost elsewhere in the court system as, for example, anecdotally, cases take longer,” the written submission said.

“The judiciary’s perception is that cases which may never have been brought or been compromised at an early stage are now often fully contested, requiring significantly more judicial involvement and causing consequential delays across the civil, family and tribunals justice systems.”

The number of cases resolved by mediation has also fallen, resulting in more cases being dealt with by courts and tribunals.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world at around £2 billion every year.  We have therefore had to face up to tough choices in reforming legal aid.  We are closely monitoring the impact of these changes.”