Access to justice is in crisis, with cuts to legal aid having created a two-tier system for the wealthy and the less well off, according to a new report.
The Bach Commission on access to justice states that poor people are being left without advice or professional support due to cuts which strictly limit the type of cases for which which legal aid can be applied.
Chairman of the commission, Labour peer Lord Bach, said: “Our interim report shows that our justice system is creaking at the seams. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act cuts have produced a crisis in the justice system and the poorest in our society can no longer receive the legal support they require.
“This unacceptable state of affairs needs challenging and changing. This report is the starting point in our ongoing work to redesign the justice system so that it works for all. The commission intends now to turn to working through the policy solutions to fix this crisis.”
Changes to eligibility rules mean most cases involving housing, welfare, debt, immigration, medical negligence and family law no longer qualify for assistance.
The probe says the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme, which was meant to offset the impact of cuts, has failed to deliver due to “extremely low levels of take-up”.
“The Government suggested around 847 children and 4,888 young adults would be granted ECF each year,” Lord Bach says. “Yet between October 2013 and June 2015 only eight children and 28 young adults were granted legal aid under the scheme.”
The commission calls for reducing restrictions on legal aid.
Labour's shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “Since 2010, the Conservatives have implemented unprecedented cuts to legal aid – putting justice beyond the reach of thousands. There is much of substance in the report, which will be welcome to all those who value the principle of access to justice.
“I am particularly excited by the idea of enshrining in law a minimum standard for access to justice. A basic threshold for access to justice has the potential to be a historic advance in our law which could improve the lives of thousands.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies