Nucleus was pleased to support the first ever Bar Justice week at the beginning of November. Highlights of the week were 25 events inside and outside of Parliament, the issue of eight specialist reports (‘The Justice Papers’) a petition to extend legal aid and the release of a short film. All made the case for free and affordable legal services for the public at a time of unparalleled demand in many areas of advice work.
Now provision is only available to a small minority and the majority of defendants in the County Court have no representation at all, having to struggle with the complex provisions of the rules of the CPR and The County Court Practice (known as The Green Book) by themselves. Faced by the power and resources of financial institutions, utility companies, state agencies and local authorities many defendants are unable to adequately present their case and defend themselves.
Legal aid and funding for social welfare law : law which affects the poorest and most vulnerable has had a huge effect on people.
Locally, we can only take 1/4 of the benefits cases to tribunal compared with 8 years ago.
With family , directly due to cuts in legal aid and private provision, demand for help has risen form the 15th most common query to the 5th in the last 8 years.
A short film Justice cuts: the stories behind the numbers has been released highlighting the issues:
Nucleus can confirm the lack of legal aid is particularly acute in debt and money advice work and despite the huge increase in debt and enforcement proceedings in England and Wales since 1990; full legal aid provision has never covered many common debt problems and has now been removed from many housing and benefit cases entirely.
These views are backed by an academic study. Justice Week promoted the findings of Professor Martin Chalkley for the Bar Council revealing that justice funding has been cut by 27 per cent in real terms over the last 10 years as public spending actually grew by 13 per cent. Nucleus re-organised itself over this period in 2007 to specialise in money and debt advice but nonetheless experienced directly the effects of the major cuts of 2008-2011 in legal aid funding for housing, welfare and administrative law, a process continued in 2014-16.
The impact across the justice system is revealed further in The Justice Papers written by practising barristers and workers in charities, a series subtitled ‘At the sharp end of the cuts’.
To read five of the Justice Papers published in Justice Week giving personal insights on the issues:
- Civil Justice by Richard Drabble QC, Landmark Chambers
- Mental Health and legal aid by Stephen Heath, Mind
- Legal Aid: Too little too late by John Gallagher, Principal Solicitor, Shelter
- Criminal Justice by Sarah Vine, Doughty Street
- A View from the Personal Support Unit by Jane Mahon, PSU Manager, Family Courts
Further discussion of the issues with take place at the Bar and Young Bar conference in London on 24th November 2018.