Legal aid cuts were intended to save public money. However, the reduced availability of legal aid funding is putting pressure on the court system as many people dealing with civil claims are having to struggle on without help or representation, because they cannot afford or choose not to pay for legal representation.
Legal Aid Cuts Come Under Criticism By The Judiciary
Lady Justice Black recently commented, when dealing with an appeal application “this is not a satisfactory state of affairs as the time taken to attend to this is considerable and cannot be spared in what is already a very busy court.”
She was referring to the the appeal being brought by an unrepresented individual in family proceedings which he didn’t deal with in the correct way. The Judge dealing with the case found herself having to do a lot of work for the parties, in explaining the procedure and law, which the parties simply didn’t know. If the parties were represented, it would be expected that the lawyers would know and follow the procedure and set the law out for the Judge to apply.
Lord Justice Aikens also commented on the case saying “money may have been saved from the legal aid funds, but an equal amount of expense, if not more, has been incurred in terms of the costs of judges’ and court time. The result is that there is, in fact, no economy at all”.
We slightly disagree with this comment. It surely does increase the difficulty of a Judge’s role and will create greater administration for the courts. However, we have not seen any evidence that additional costs have been created by additional support being given to the funds. If anything, it will increase pressure on the court system and makes Judges’ lives a lot more difficult and stressful. If additional resources are not given to the courts to handle litigants in person, it will create inefficiencies and surely result in claims taking longer to progress through the court system.
Lord Justice Aikens adds “this way of dealing with cases runs the risk that a correct result will not be reached because the court does not have the legal assistance of counsel that is should have and the court has no other legal assistance available.”
This is a good point. It is for the parties to explain their cases and to identify what remedy they seek in law. Litigants in person may be more likely to set out the facts of the case and what they want to achieve. They may well miss out the legal cause of action and authority that sets out why in law they are entitled to what it is they look to achieve. If they fail to set out the legal arguments, it rests for the Judge dealing with the issue to do that research for them or for the research simply not to be done. Judges deal with a wide range of work so cannot be expected to know all the rules, legislation and case authorities for every type of case that comes before them.
So What Lies Ahead?
So legal aid cuts are probably a short term cost saving. In time the additional pressure of litigants in person will cause the courts problems. When those problems arise, it is likely they will be expensive to fix. However, after the way the legal system has been changed recently, will any attempts be made to fix it at all when the problems become too large to ignore?