Be careful what you wish for with regard to Legal Aid reform.
In England and Wales the Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling cut legal aid expenditure by removing all sorts of cases from scope and by introducing stricter means tests.
This has resulted in a huge increase in unrepresented parties in divorce and access cases; in increased fees to commence proceedings eg £10,000 for a claim; in no legal aid for those who can afford to pay for legal advice which meant in the case of one MP (Nigel Evans) charged with rape who was acquitted he received no refund of his legal costs.
The reasons for people going to court must be examined and alternatives considered to court but ultimately those who cannot afford legal representation require legal aid so that they are properly represented.
The fact that a few firms or a few barristers appear to earn a lot isn’t an indication of a problem with legal aid but more so an indication of how good they are at the job.
The client is the beneficiary of quality legal advice and the state is assured that justice is done.
Meddling with legal aid could generate increased costs for the Court Service and other departments.
A proper analysis that doesn’t just look at the cost but also considers the value of legal aid is required.
Reports criticising Grayling’s legal aid cuts prepared by the Justice Committee and the Public Accounts Committee are worth reading.
Don’t make the same mistake that Grayling and his advisers have made of letting prejudice against lawyers ruin the justice systems in Northern Ireland.
Partner, Emmersons Solicitors, Newcastle upon Tyne