This project is concerned with mapping the impact of cuts to civil legal aid on vulnerable groups. The aim of this research is to provide a robust evidence base for the impact of the cuts that can be used by others to campaign for change. It is also intended to explore the different structures for the delivery of legal advice that emerge as a result of the cuts, and to evaluate their efficacy in enabling individuals to access justice.
Funded by: Monash-Warwick Alliance Seed Fund
An expert workshop on the cuts to civil and criminal legal aid was held at the University of Warwick on 19 March 2014. The workshop was attended by academics, legal practitioners, funders and civil society actors, all of whom had extensive knowledge of the legal aid changes and their impact in practice. The workshop comprised three main sessions:
• Legal aid cuts and the changing face of the legal profession;
• Legal aid cuts and the lawyer client relationship; and
• The broader social consequences of legal aid cuts
In each session the presentations and subsequent extended discussions raised a wide range of issues. The workshop forms part of a broader project, which brings together the Universities of Warwick and Monash to explore comparatively some of the consequences of the cuts to civil and criminal legal aid in England, Wales and Victoria. The project involves consultations with academic, legal and government/non-government stakeholders and the development of an online presence for external engagement. A second event will be held in July 2014 in Monash, which will explore further some of the themes raised at the Warwick event in an Australian context and build international and comparative expertise with stakeholders, with a view to future funded research. A compendium of resources, report of proceedings and further information about the project, is available from the ‘Access to Justice’ project website.
REPORT: The State of the Sector: the impact of cuts to civil legal aid on practitioners and their clients
Centre member Natalie Byrom joined forces with the founders of ilegal to capture the impact of the cuts to civil legal aid on professionals working in the sector and their clients. A survey was launched to explore the long term impact of the £350 million cuts introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) on expertise within the legal aid funded civil law sector. In total, 674 individuals responded. The report was published on 8 April 2013 has received extensive media coverage in the mainstream and legal press.
Report key findings
• 1 in 3 of those who responded to the survey were at risk of redundancy.
• Advisors in the areas of housing, debt and welfare benefits, where the majority of respondents reported that the recession and spending cuts have led to increased demand for legal advice, are at most risk.
• The most qualified advisors are at most risk of redundancy; 63.4% of those at risk of redundancy are specialist advisors, 44.8% have more than ten years of experience
• Whilst the impact of the cuts will be felt nationwide, the results of this survey highlighted that the North of England, the Midlands, South West England and Wales are likely to be disproportionately impacted by reductions in casework, service closures and redundancies, leading to fears of the creation of ‘advice deserts’, with vulnerable people unable to get the advice they need.
• More than half of respondents who stated that their service was 'very likely to close completely in 2013' were from the North of England. One respondent to the survey commented: “…Thousands of people depend on the specialist advice we provide and that is just in one area of West Yorkshire. We will now have to offer a reduced service, meaning many people will struggle to find the help they need. This will have a huge knock-on effect in other areas and could see many people made homeless.”
• A disproportionate number of respondents from the South West stated that their agency would cease to provide specialist casework entirely as a result of the cuts (19.4%).
Find out more about the impact of this work here.