Spending cuts on legal services will deny 'effective access' to justice, says leading barrister


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The Independent Online

Many people will be denied “effective access” to justice as a result of Government spending cuts on legal services, according to a leading barrister.

Michael Todd QC, chairman of the Bar Council - which represents barristers, says litigants representing themselves will become "the rule rather than the exception" in the wake of changes to the provision of legal aid.

And, writing in a legal magazine, Mr Todd questions whether ministers have assessed the additional costs the justice system will have to bear as a result of spending cuts.

Mr Todd says "damage has been done" by cuts in criminal defence fees, cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service budget, and provisions of legislation relating to legal aid, sentencing and punishment.

"Whole swathes of legal services have been removed from the scope of legal aid for family work," writes Mr Todd, in the latest issue of Counsel magazine.

"Access to justice has always been too expensive for most people. These cuts will ensure that access to justice will be denied to many more. When I say access to justice, I mean effective access to justice.

"Self-representing litigants can always appear before the courts in person but what prospects do they have of putting forward their best case?"

He adds: "Every informed prediction is that, by reason of the forthcoming reductions and changes in legal aid, the number of self-representing litigants will increase, and on a considerable scale, with such litigants becoming the rule rather than the exception."

Mr Todd goes on: "In many situations, as a result of the reductions and changes in legal aid, there will be a denial of justice."

He suggests that rising numbers of litigants in person will burden the court system.

"Has the Government undertaken a proper assessment of the additional costs which the justice system will have to bear as a result of those cuts? If they have I seem to have missed it," he adds.

"Everyone I speak to - interested parties that is, outside of Parliament - are saying the same thing: no sufficient account has been taken of the increased costs to the court system, and indeed to the justice system, caused by self-representing litigants, thereby leaving Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunals Service and privately-funded litigants to meet the additional costs resulting from the greater inefficiency in the system."