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UK urged to reconsider legal aid

Jul 11, 2017, 4:00 PM | Article By: Alhagie Mbye, The Point’s Europe Correspondent

The European countries are currently witnessing  a transformation in terms of diversity including arrival of new refugees seen as a ‘’truly productive force of humanity’’ while others view them as ‘’extreme burden’’ forcing governments to enact, amend or introduce measures sometimes described as ‘’controversial’’.

In addition, due to the economic downturn which some of these countries are yet to overcome, certain governments decided to introduce measures to reduce or cut funding on various areas affecting its citizens prompting widespread debates and discussions.

The Point learnt that as results of such cuts especially on legal representation, the Law Society of England and Wales has strongly suggested to the UK government to ‘’reconsider’’ its decision regarding cuts to legal aid five years since it was introduced.

The Act known as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) became law and is now four years since the measures finally came into force.

In a document addressed to this correspondent, Robert Bourns, outgoing President of the Law Society of England and Wales insisted that even though LASPO ‘’was an ambitious piece of legislation, overhauling the legal aid system alongside a range of other reforms to the justice system... many of the changes were controversial’’.

President Bourns also recalled that the issue had ‘’generated often heated opposition from social justice organisations and the legal sector, including the Law Society’’.

He added that ‘’it will come as no surprise that, overall, our conclusions regarding the changes to legal aid are not positive. ‘’

However, the government had earlier announced that the reforms ‘’would take 3-5 years to become established and stable’’, but the Law Society is not satisfied with its overall performance and consequently urges the government to consider three areas of concern: access to justice; impact on the wider justice system; knock-on costs for the public purse’’.

If these issues are not addressed, the Law Society said it fear that they will ‘’worsen and generate additional problems for the future’’.

It also contested that the reduction of free or subsidized legal advice can also increase the ‘’burden on public services’’, thus suggesting that a lack of early legal advice can cause relatively ‘’minor problems to escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, and put pressure on public services’’.

In a blunt but serious conclusion it added that ‘’this situation is not sustainable... We welcomed the previous government’s announcement of a review into LASPO, and we hope that this opportunity to address some of the adverse consequences of the Act is taken’’.

Since its introduction, legal practitioners and several other institutions across the country actually petitioned or condemned it outright and appealed to the government to abolish it.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that the UK is view by many to be a generous nation and thus the issue of legal aid has been a subject of debate and discussion prompting more than 100 judges, peers, and prominent lawyers and other professionals including doctors across the country working in the civil and criminal justice system to address an open letter to the Guardian newspaper asking the incoming government to restore the legal aid in order to ‘’prevent widespread miscarriage of justice’’.

However the government had argued and defended vehemently that it ‘’was necessary to cut legal aid on the grounds that savings had to be made’’.

It also added that after careful consideration, taking into account that the ‘’UK has one the most expensive legal systems in the world, costing around £1.5bn a year’’, such a reform is necessary.

The government had also gave assurance that following the reform, the legal aid ‘’will still remain generous and that anyone suspected of a crime will still have access to a legal aid lawyer’’.