The number of lawyers trained to handle civil litigation areas covered by legal aid will plummet if cuts to the state provision go through, according to the Judges’ Council of England and Wales. The council issued the warning in its recent response to the Ministry of Justice consultation Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales. In its view, dramatic cuts would lead to an unsustainable future for trained lawyers, and difficulties with filling more senior posts.
‘There is a real concern, especially in relation to family and criminal work,’ said the council, ‘that the pool of skilled advocates willing to undertake the work will diminish, to the disadvantage of litigants and to the detriment of the efficient running of cases. Moreover, there are likely to be longer-term adverse consequences for the recruitment of able advocates into these fields of work and – at the other end of the spectrum – for the existence of a sufficiently large and diverse pool of advocates suitable for appointment as judges.’
The council suggested that, if the cuts were implemented, the UK civil-litigation landscape could deteriorate into a patchwork of self-representation and – ironically – spiralling costs. ‘One of [our] major concerns,’ it added, ‘is that the proposals would lead to a huge increase in the incidence of unrepresented litigants, with serious implications for the quality of justice and for the administration of the justice system in terms of additional costs and delays – at a time when courts are having to cope with closures, budgetary cut-backs and reductions in staff numbers.’
As NewLegal Review reported in November 2010, the Law Society has argued that any cuts to legal aid must be introduced alongside reforms that would liberalise the legal system and encourage innovative service delivery. Since then, the Society has launched a full-scale lobbying effort, Sound Off For Justice, calling on the government to put greater thought into its plans for legal aid. With high-profile groups such as the Judges’ Council and the Law Society weighing in with their caveats, the issue of costs in the UK legal system is sure to gather momentum in the coming months.
To find out more about the Judges’ Council of England and Wales, click here.
For the Law Society’s official Sound Off For Justice website, click here.
Administrative hurdles, recruitment challenges and narrowed access to justice are set to result from UK government policy, says leading judiciary council