legal aid cuts uk

There was once a time when about 80% of all British People were eligible for legal aid. Hiring a lawyer doesn’t come cheap, but the government had sought to provide since 1949 a public pool of money for those who can’t afford to hire an attorney. The foundation of justice process was supposed to be made available to everyone in the country no matter how much they earn. If you are arrested, you are always entitled to free legal advice. The legal aid sector has traditionally been provided by almost a cottage industry of small legal firms, who then apply for funding on a case by case basis.

But over time and since the recession in 2008, that dropped down to now 29%. Cuts in 2004, 2006, and 2010 introduced fixed legal fees. Providers pulled out of complex legal areas like immigration and asylum. Legal aid services have needed to close or split focus towards more lucrative private work.

Then the 2013 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) happened.

What’s Wrong with the Old System?

It was argued that a reform for the £2 billion legal aid system because it was considered one of the most expensive in the world. Eligibility would be stiffened, those who earn more than £3000 pounds a month should be able to hire their own lawyers, and migrants would have to prove they were legal residents first.

It was supposed to be a plan to reform the system and save up to 350 million pounds per year. But among the slash cuts, the changes also meant that some types of cases were no longer eligible for public funds except in very specific circumstances – these include divorce, child contact, welfare and benefits, employment, criminal negligence, and housing law.

Huge areas of civil law were removed from the scope of legal aid, and these are the cases where the great bulk of citizens need assistance most often. Criminal cases remain in scope for legal aid, subject to testing for the economic means, but most people are not criminals and still need affordable legal advice.

For changes meant to provide more value to the taxpayer who pay the costs, it ended up impacting those who actually needed legal aid the most.

Is Brexit to Blame for This Too?

The cut to civil legal aid cases have already come into effect since 2013. So this was a pre-Brexit concern. However the reason for the budget cuts was to reduce the deficit, so certainly this chaos is only going to exacerbate the problem.

Suffering Caused by Insufficient Funding for Legal Aid

The lack of free legal advice has seen family courts increasing represented by people having to act as solicitors and barristers in their own cases ,i.e., litigants-in-person.

“LiPs are a nightmare,” a judge spoke up on condition of anonymity. “99.9% do not understand what is going on in court or outside court; they don’t know a good point from a bad one; they don’t understand the law; they don’t understand what they have to prove and they don’t know how to ask a question. It is my firmly held view that the courts are full of people who would not be there if they had been able to approach a solicitor.”

Parents found themselves forced to struggle alone, trying to navigate a system designed for highly trained professionals at a most emotional and vulnerable time in their lives.

“‘Since drastic cuts to legal aid in April 2013, we have seen children unable to enforce the rights and protections that the law provides to them. Without legal support, they and their families simply cannot navigate the complex legal processes they face, which have life-changing consequences,” said Professor Carolyn Hamilton, Director of Research and International Programmes at Coram Children’s Legal Centre.

In the year before the cuts, from 2012 to 2013, over 570,000 people were given early legal advice. This covered all areas of civil law, including such important daily concerns like family, immigration, welfare benefits, and housing. By 2017-2018, the figure was now only near 140,000.

When the cuts were introduced, the government expected advice agencies and law centers to naturally fill the gap – but they also had their budgets cut. Now all those who would have been given their due access to legal advice before now could only make do by their own bewildered selves or give up entirely.

Another consequence of legal aid cuts was the sharp decline in the number of couples that enter mediation to resolve their differences. Children were often a casualty of such heavily acrimonious exchanges.

“There are many outbreaks of bad behaviour in the family court. That’s why it’s good to have third parties there. For individual parents, it’s unendurable stress. It’s an arcane system and now there’s no one there to explain it to them,” said Penny Scott, a solicitor at Cartridges Law in Exeter and chair of the Law Society’s family law committee.

Deep cuts to legal aid fees for solicitors and barristers have also driven many lawyers out of fields that were formerly covered by legal aid. Deep cuts to legal aid fees for solicitors and barristers have also driven out many lawyers and promising new hires from fields that were formerly covered by legal aid. The nature of legal aid work, with its unpredictable and social hours, and high workload, make it an almost impossible task to combine with their own family life.

This leaves what the Law Society has termed “advice deserts”, large parts of the country where claimants cannot find any experts to consult.

“I would say be careful not to confuse legal aid solicitors with commercial or civil solicitors, who earn far more in general,” said Solicitor Alex Chapman. “My salary is comparable to a policeman or a plumber and we’re not paid quite as handsomely as you might think.”

Hope for the Future

In September of 2018, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) published a report at the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) since it came into force in 2013. The conclusion has been that it was a pretty terrible affair at all levels.

Yes it has saved the government money, but at the cost of much more human suffering. “Labour helped these devastating legal aid cuts along. Now it’s time to fix it,” said former lord chancellor Charles Falconer.

The Bach Commission on the Right to Justice Report recommends a legally enforceable right to access to reasonable legal assistance as part a new Right to Justice Act.

Legal aid is a foundation for a civilized democracy. Without it, people cannot enforce their rights or defend themselves against the state. Legal advice and representation is similar to healthcare – it’s not something you wish to have to use, but should be there when you need it.

Article by Hadaway & Hadaway Family Solicitors in the North East UK.

abortion in the UK

Abortion is a question of morality. Which has the greater moral value – the social and psychological impact of a child unborn and mothers having to leave with themselves after the fact, or the inherent right of women to have complete decision-making autonomy over their own bodies?

This is a discussion that cannot be settled anytime soon. Boil it down to the context of a certain problem and its corresponding solution. Therefore the most important question becomes: Just how easy is it to get an abortion in the UK? Is it even legal?

The answer is yes. But also no.

It is somewhat expedient. But sometimes you can still get arrested for it.

The reason, as always, is from the intersection of UK laws generally seeking to help the greatest number of people but also as a relic of an older, much less informed sociopolitical era. The more you lean on existing regulations, the more it just tends to do the opposite of what it was originally intended to do.

 

UK Abortion Laws

Abortion is legal under certain conditions in the UK (but not in Northern Ireland) based on the Abortion Act of 1967, at its time one of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe.

Section 1(1) of the Abortion Act goes thus:

Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith –

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or

(b) that the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated

(d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

The way the law is written, if the abortion is conducted by an unlicensed practitioner without the support of two other medical practitioners, it will by default be a crime.

This means that if a woman seeks an abortifacient on her own, even if the pregnancy is still at a very early stage, may find herself unlawfully liable to the Offences against the Person Act of 1861. Those who assist in her procurement of tools and drugs would also be indictable.

 

Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861

The relevant sections go thus:

  1. 58. Every woman, being with child, who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, and whosoever, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman whether she be or be not with child … shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . . to be kept in penal servitude for life …
  2. Whosoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . . to be kept in penal servitude . . .

The Abortion Act of 1967 largely papers over the conditions of the Offenses against the Person Act of 1861. A hundred years separate these laws. How do they hold up against modern conventions on Human Rights and queries about pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest?

The answer: They don’t.

Westminster’s needed to bounce this hot potato as either a health issue or a human right issue. Advocacy groups whether pro-choice or pro-life both claim to protect the mother. Even those who object to abortions on ethical or religious grounds want to resolve the issue via discouraging abortion as an option instead of punishing those who seek it.

 

Why Legal Abortion?

Through the 19th to the first half of the 21st century, laws were in place to limit access to legal abortion. None of these, of course, prevented unwanted pregnancies or the need for abortions. Thousands of women had no recourse but to rely on dubious abortionists, risking death or permanent infertility. Many women died of infection in back-street clinics.

Abortifacents disguised as menstrual cures were sold – most of them were ineffective or outright poisonous. Some of them were even based on lead, which if not poisoning and blinding the mother would have caused mental damage to the child that survived.

The landmark case for abortion rights was the trial of Dr. Alex Bourne in 1938, who argued that abortion should be legal in exceptional circumstances, and he admitted to having performed an abortion for a 14-year old girl who was gang-raped and now was suicidal after her ordeal.

He was acquitted on the note that when the mother’s physical and mental health was in danger it was permissible to do so. However a psychiatrist’s permission was still required so it was only relatively well educated or wealthy women who could find or pay for a favorable psychiatrist.

Safe access to abortion would prevent more women from putting themselves in more life-threatening situations. Legalization of abortion access was therefore a public health measure, as the crime of preying upon desperate women with unsafe practices is worse than the act of seeking abortion in the first place.

 

Parents, Young Mothers and Abortion Law

Abortion is not so much a concern anymore for adults who can approach the issue from multiple vectors, for those that are the victims of sexual assault, or those diagnosed with a congenital defect in the fetus. The modern medical system is tailored to deal with those who use reason as a motive for abortion.

Largely the moral panic about abortion is how it will affect young teens who become unprepared very young mothers and the social acceptability of promiscuity in the youth. Fear and disgust drives the engine for both sides of the argument.

It is argued that parents should retain legal rights to be informed before their child who is a minor may request an abortion from the NHS.

It is argued that a minor who is pregnant from rape might be allowed to travel to have an abortion against the express wish of her parents.

It is argued that parents who attempt to aid their children with something like buying pills online should not run afoul of 100-year-old law whose provisions have already be redefined in all other parts of the United Kingdom.

It is argued that unborn children have rights that must be upheld too.

It is argued that being an underaged mother is a clear danger to a young woman’s mental and financial health.

It is argued that the health risks of abortion is unacceptable.

It is argued that the health risks of underage child delivery is unacceptable.

It is argued that prevention is better than the cure.

It is argued that a safe public cure is better than a secretive illegal cure.

 

A Deeper Struggle

But unfortunately most of all it has become a political issue. Northern Ireland is currently in review about whether its abortion laws represent a failure to abide by European consensus of human rights. But if that is so, what about Republic of Ireland?

If it passes, it would now be much easier to travel to have an abortion on the Isle, and in sense it represents an attack on their values.

Female body autonomy unfortunately has become a rallying symbol for unspoken other fears about social autonomy and political self-consistency. Many parents don’t feel like their own opinions should be discarded about the life of their own children who still live with them. Others still feel that the UK should be careful about unintended consequences specially after their mess of a vote back in 2016.

Pro-choice and pro-life represent equal but conflicting moral platforms that unfortunately paints the other side as ‘bad people’.

But perhaps the worst part is that the law as written is an either-or rule between external authority vs internal self-rule for a woman’s own body; parents vs children; murder vs suicide; self-help vs government clinics – very little compromise in between.