As Panorama revealed this week, the impact legal aid cuts are having is alarming. So why are both political parties planning even more cuts to our legal system? It's already struggling enough.
People can no longer afford quality legal representation on their behalf, so they're having to represent themselves. Someone with a poor understanding of our vast and complex legal system is often set to face a qualified professional in the court room. It’s the equivalent of a Sunday league defender being pitted against Lionel Messi.
Our legal system provides a fundamental protection to society. Like our healthcare system, you don’t always realise you need it until you do. Yet unlike healthcare, where everyone has free access, by cutting legal aid we see greater groups of society cut adrift from support. They're left in a significantly weaker position, and less likely to receive justice. This is not, and never has been, what the British legal system is about.
Our system is the envy of the world. We have a rich history, and we offer fair and unbiased trials. It's for this reason that we export our legal services, and showcase them on a global stage. But how can we shout from the rooftops about our renowned legal system, yet continue to chop away at it behind the scenes? Eventually there will be nothing left, and nothing to shout about.
With the General Election looming it is worth considering the political impacts of further cuts to legal aid. Thousands of people are employed or involved in the justice system, many of whom will vote. They are aware of the impact of the proposed cuts and they will want to know that our politicians understand the consequences of further cuts.
It's also worth noting the economic implications of placing further financial restraints on the system, and how doing so will ultimately decrease the quality of justice on offer. In any business, a fall in the quality of its product is usually met with a fall in its value – and this is something the government should consider, particularly for an industry which contributes so much to the British economy.
John Elvidge QC is a barrister at Dere Street Barristers and leader of the North Eastern Circuit