Legal Aid Cuts – “A View from the Judiciary”

‘The duty to face up to these problems does not just lie with the Government”

In a recent public lecture to the Institute for Government, President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger has again spoken out on the Legal Aid Cuts.

In recent months the Legal Sector has shown significant opposition to the Government’s proposed legal aid reforms and to many it may seem like a job well done, with a “U-turn” announced on the proposed criminal law price competitive tendering.  A simple “Google” will find a multitude of blog’s, articles and vitriol on the legal aid cuts and the effect this will have upon a citizen’s access to justice. Lord Neuberger’s speech appears to take a familiar tac,

 “it is fundamental to the rule of law that every citizen, perhaps above all the poor, the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, should be able to go to court to vindicate their rights or to defend themselves…

…Legal advice and legal proceedings are beyond the means of most people. There are three principle problems:

Legal services are expensive;

Court procedures are not always proportionate

Money for legal aid is scarce.”

However Lord Neuberger has made a challenging and thought provoking comment. He states that

‘The duty to face up to these problems does not just lie with the Government….”There is a fundamental public duty on the Government, and also on the legal profession and the Judiciary to work constructively together with a view to best maintaining access to justice in the face of the harsh realities of Government finances. Lawyers and judges have a duty to help make the system work, as well as warning of the risks of cuts.”

To many, the legal aid cuts, and their effect on the citizen have been a weight placed solely on the shoulders of government. Lord Neuberger’s speech reminds us that the responsibility upon us to enforce the rule of law is shared equally between Government and the legal profession, and that it will only be through striking a balance that allows good lawyers to continue to use their expertise within the financial constraints, and the adoption of new unfamiliar techniques of dispute resolution that the “poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged” will continue to be able to obtain representation before the court.