Legal aid changes are due to come into force today through the Legal Aid and Punishment of Offenders Act with the purpose of reducing the legal aid bill by £350 million. A warning has come from the Law Society, which represents solicitors, stating that the cuts may mean people will take the law into their own hands in order to seek justice.
The reforms cut funding for huge areas of civil law, inclusive of some family law cases in order to preserve legal aid for those who need it. However it is estimated that some law firms will see a reduction of 75% of those who qualify for legal aid. The head of Legal Aid at the Law Society, Richard Miller, has said that the society has warned of the effects of cutting legal aid numerous times.
The Bar Council is also concerned that vulnerable people will be the people who suffer. The chair of the Bar Council, Maura McGowan QC, has suggested that the cuts will lead to more people going to court without legal representation, as access to justice is not being funded adequately.
The cuts will have an impact upon the legal profession as less people are going to be able to fund representation with an estimated 650,000 cases no longer qualifying, causing a downturn in work. This issue is particularly acute for those involved in fighting personal injury or negligence cases, as theoretically the no win no fee option is to become obsolete. It also means that legal professionals are taking time to compile documents to assist those who cannot afford legal representation, in order for them to conduct themselves properly in court. The Bar Council have created a guide for representing yourself and things to avoid.
The legal aid cuts are not only affecting society in terms of access to justice but have a knock on effect to the legal profession as less people will be able to afford representation, further decreasing the amount of work for legal professionals.