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Access to justice

Legal aid exists so that all of us can access legal expertise when we need it most. However, recent cuts to legal aid mean more and more people cannot find the help they need.

Scales of Justice - Image courtesy of James Cridland, at www.james.cridland.net

We wanted to ensure that:

  1. Ordinary people could effectively challenge unjust decisions taken by Government agencies which impact directly on their lives.
  2. Red tape did not stop people who are entitled to legal aid from getting it.
  3. Consumers of legal services could expect a quality service that meets their individual needs.

Without legal aid, we were concerned that thousands of people would not get access to justice.

In 2012 the Government cut legal aid funding significantly under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO). Legal aid has been under further attack with the Ministry of Justice proposing additional cuts and restrictions in their consultations on transforming legal aid and judicial review.

What did we do?

We campaigned for changes to the Government's proposals and achieved key concessions on a number of key areas. These included;

  • Making key exceptions to the residence test for access to legal aid for a number of vulnerable groups including children under 12 months and victims of trafficking.
  • Ensuring price was not the determining factor in awarding contracts to deliver legal aid.
  • The scrapping of a proposed cap on the number of legal aid funded advice providers.

Citizens Advice then responded to the Government's consultation [ 260 kb] on their plans to restrict access to judicial review. Judicial review, a technical but fundamental part of our legal system, allows a judge to review on behalf of an individual citizen how a public body came to a policy decision. It is the last tool with which citizens can hold public bodies to account and challenge the process by which decisions are made.

What was the result?

In February, the Government published their respone to the consultation on judicial review. While the Government did offer a concession on 'standing' i.e who can bring a judicial review, they plan to proceed with the majority of their reforms. You can read our thoughts in Gillian Guy's blog on the risks of the reforms.