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The cuts to legal aid – a cause close to my heart

 

 

 

Politicians bandy around stats and figures to the point when it often just seems like noise and people stop paying attention.

However, there is one figure of huge relevance to my current profession. I am a legal aid solicitor and have been for 34 years. My working life has been about doing my best to help some of the most vulnerable in society; people who always need legal aid.

The number of people receiving legal aid has fallen by more than 80% since 2010, the year that the Coalition came to power.
If any one statistic illustrated the unseen social damage inflicted on our country in the last nine years by the Tories it is this one.

Legal aid is about providing access to justice, equality before the law and the rule of law for those who cannot afford to pay privately for legal representation. It is a fundamental, if often not high profile, pillar of our democratic and welfare state.

Without it, tenants facing eviction and homelessness, those in receipt of welfare benefits appealing unjust cuts to their legal entitlement and asylum seekers fleeing persecution, to give just three examples of many, will not be able to get the access to legal advice and representation they so badly need.

Cutting legal aid disempowers the weakest and most vulnerable in society, removes accountability and provides de facto immunity for poor, inadequate and unlawful decision making that can have catastrophic and devastating consequences for individuals and families. It is obscene that it has hacked away in this fashion.

Labour will restore legal aid funding for people seeking legal advice to appeal benefits decisions. I think we can go much further and support the Labour Campaign for Human Rights that has called on the party to commit to a fully funded and reformed legal aid system as set out in the Bach Report that would deliver a legally enforceable right to justice.

SF