As we today mark the 65th anniversary of the legal aid system, a new poll published suggests that public opinion has hardened against the government’s series of endemic cuts to legal aid.
Research funded by the Law Society, and carried out for charity Legal Action Group, shows a decrease in public support for the government’s cuts to legal aid.
23% of the 1,000 people surveyed in April 2014 agreed with the cuts, this being down from just over a third in the same poll carried out in April 2014 when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force which dramatically reduced the scope of legal aid.
In 2013, 44% of those surveyed disagreed that legal aid should be cut to reduce the spending deficit, compared with 49% disagreeing this year. The Leal Aid Group has furthermore analysed a series of news stories and is of the belief that the government has pursued a policy of ‘systematic attacks’ in an attempt to sway public opinion against legal aid and those who work within the system.
LAG director Steve Hynes said:
“It is 65 years ago that the modern legal aid system was born, but in keeping with what has been a highly negative approach to this important public service there has been no official recognition of this anniversary by the government.”
Law Society president Andrew Caplen commented:
“Since access to legal aid for ordinary people was slashed from April last year, there is a growing realisation amongst the public that help with everyday legal problems such as family, housing and employment law cases is much less widely available than it was.”
“The evidence from this poll demonstrates that the more these effects become apparent, the less the public is prepared to support cuts to legal aid.”
Despite the government’s claim that cost of the legal aid system in England and Wales is dramatically higher than spending in other countries, Caplen said the reality is that legal aid lawyers are often earning as little as £25,000 per annum and yet help some of the most vulnerable members of society.
“Cuts to civil legal aid are already having a devastating effect and are a false economy. Because early advice is often unavailable, people are ending up in court in cases where problems could have been resolved earlier.”