In Parliament I’ve highlighted an increase in the number of people representing themselves in court as evidence that government legal aid cuts are an obstacle to people accessing their right to justice.
According to statistics from the Legal Aid Agency, overall spending on criminal and civil state-funded legal advice dropped by 36% in real-terms over the past decade – from £2.6billion in 2010-11 to £1.6billion in 2018-19. Ministry of Justice figures for the crown courts show that over the last six years there have been over 67,000 defendants with no legal representation at their first hearing.
Speaking in Attorney General questions, I said “We are seeing more and more litigants-in-person due to the Government’s legal aid cuts, and many people never pursue their rights to see their children or to make financial claims because they do not know how. What will Ministers do to help people access justice, which is their right?”
In his response, Solicitor General Michael Ellis said that “the pro bono work we see in the public legal education carried out by the legal and third sectors helps to make a real difference.”
While I agree that there are excellent organisations doing pro bono work, we really need a legal aid system that works for everyone. The continuing impact of the Conservative Government’s hard cuts to legal aid are plain to see in criminal and civil courts across the country – in 2020 no one should be in situation where they are financially forced to represent themselves, or to discard their right to access justice altogether. I’m disappointed that government ministers continue to ignore or completely dismiss the fact that their cuts to legal aid are still blocking access to justice for huge numbers of people across the country, including many of my constituents.