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No time to retire

10 July 2009

Leagal aid 60

Legal Aid at 60

Introduction

Legal rights involve the things we hold most dear – our physical safety, the care of our children, our ability to stay employed or keep our homes - yet research into the civil justice system has found that one third of the population have had unresolved legal problems.(1)  The good news is that half the people who seek advice to resolve their civil legal problem obtain it, but Citizens Advice is concerned about the many who try to get advice or representation and fail.(2) The recession and financial insecurity are causing more people to seek advice about legal problems.  We know from what Citizen Advice Bureaux are telling us, that finding legal help to solve problems is getting more difficult.(3)  

Since 1939, Citizens Advice Bureaux have been providing free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to people who need it.  And since 1949, when civil legal aid was established to provide equal access to the justice system for people on low incomes, Citizens Advice Bureaux have worked in partnership with civil legal aid services to achieve the shared goals of helping people understand and realise their rights and responsibilities.

This report celebrates the vital role played by civil legal aid over the last 60 years in making the ideal of justice a reality for millions of people who otherwise could not afford advice or representation.  The research shows real public support for legal aid services.  It also highlights that we cannot cease our efforts to reach the goal of legal services for all who need them, so that there is in fact, access to justice for all.  Additional resources must be targeted at areas where gaps in service are worst and local demand is greatest to ensure that all those who need advice have equal, affordable, and reasonable access to civil legal aid.

1.  Pleasence, P., Balmer, N., and Buck, A., Causes of Action:Civil Law and Social Exclusion, Second Edition, Legal Services Research Centre, 2006

2.  English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Survey, Legal Services Research Centre, 2007

3.  The findings in this report are the result of four surveys undertaked by Citizens Advice, principally of bureaux and clients, but also of the public. A survey of 239 Citizens Advice Bureaux was undertaken from September to December 2008.  An additional survey of 261 Citizens Advice Bureaux was completed from February to May 2009.  In both surveys over half of all Citizens Advice Bureaux responded.  Citizens Advice also conducted a survey of clients’ experiences through our Adviceguide website.  There were 314 respondents.  Finally, in March 2009 Citizens Advice commissioned the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) to undertake a survey of a representative sample of the UK population (2,000 people) for their impressions of civil legal aid.  The survey was undertaken between 23 and 27 March

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