Public supports legal aid, poll shows

Topics: Law Society activity,Legal aid and access to justice,Government & politics

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  • Andrew Caplen

Public opinion has hardened against the government’s cuts to legal aid, according to the results of a poll published today to mark the 65th anniversary of the modern legal aid system.

Research, funded by the Law Society and carried out by Ipsos-Mori for charity Legal Action Group, shows a decline in public support for the government’s cuts to legal aid.

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Under a quarter (23%) of the 1,000 people surveyed in April agreed with the cuts, down from just over a third (33%) in the same poll carried out last April when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force.

In 2013, 44% of those surveyed disagreed with the statement that legal aid should be cut to reduce the spending deficit, compared with 49% this year. 
An analysis of news stories carried out by LAG found evidence that the government has pursued a policy of ‘systematic attacks’ to try and sway public opinion against the legal aid system and the lawyers who work in it.

The group notes an article in which lord chancellor Chris Grayling criticises the firm Public Interest Lawyers for its pursuit of claims by Iraqis against British forces and another where Grayling cited figures on firms’ receipts from the legal aid system to demonstrate that the legal aid system ‘is not sustainable’.

LAG director Steve Hynes said: ‘It is 65 years ago that the modern legal aid system was born, but in keeping with what has been a highly negative approach to this important public service there has been no official recognition of this anniversary by the government.’
 

While legal aid has been ‘much maligned’ by the lord chancellor, public support for the scheme remains ‘remarkably strong’, Hynes said. ‘If anything this opinion-polling evidence shows that the government is comprehensively losing the argument.’

Law Society president Andrew Caplen (pictured) said: ‘Since access to legal aid for ordinary people was slashed from April last year, there is a growing realisation amongst the public that help with everyday legal problems such as family, housing and employment law cases is much less widely available than it was.

‘The evidence from this poll demonstrates that the more these effects become apparent, the less the public is prepared to support cuts to legal aid.’
 


Despite the government’s ‘dubious claim’ about the high cost of the legal aid system compared with spending in other countries, Caplen said the reality is that legal aid lawyers are often earning as little as £25,000 a year to help the most vulnerable in society.
 


He said: ‘Cuts to civil legal aid are already having a devastating effect and are a false economy. Because early advice is often unavailable, people are ending up in court in cases where problems could have been resolved earlier.’

Readers' comments (7)

  • Where there's ought for now't they'll be there in droves; What potential fee payer wouldn't support someone else paying !

    Let's have some real news such as aboloishing compulsory PII so as to free up the provision of legal services.

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  • Anon should feel the same about the NHS then?

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  • Dear Anon,
    I just don't get it.
    Are You the only one of us who is incapable of making a mistake?
    Do you have no reputation or possessions to lose?
    Do you think that the rest of us should compensate your clients if you do make a mistake?
    And how exactly do you think saving the cost of a premium would liberalize the market?
    Maybe you are not a solicitor and have some vague woolly notion of how the legal market works.
    This is not your first posting of this ilk below some story totally unconnected to PII.
    Time to come clean!

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  • Anon is correct. the general public, many surveys regularly find, are in favour of all forms of public spending. They are also resolutely opposed to taxation, except taxation of other people.

    A more interesting question would be to ask them if they think that more lawyers, better paid, would result in better standards of justice.

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  • The legal aid system we have now is very different to what it was 65 years ago. While some sort of development was both inevitable & desirable it has, like Topsy, just growed. Like many services it needs a sensible review but sadly our form of government never faces up to this sort of question until there is an unavoidable problem when we have a kneejerk type debate with both sides adopting simple solutions to complex issues. We have the same predicament with education, pensions, benefits, the NHS, etc.

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  • I agree with William Woods
    the main problem is no government wants to be seen to remove rights, but removing the means to pursue those rights is fair game.
    The ideal solution would be to respect the rights (and enforce the corresponding duty) by a system which is cost effective.
    Lawyers are an easy target - it is a tradition to attack them. however they have been as much forced into an expensive an unwieldy system as everyone else - one only has to read the White Book to appreciate that!
    I also agree anon is an agent provocateur sneakily unwilling to put a name to his remarks

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  • I qualified in 1980, and for 10 years I was genuinely proud of the Legal System in England (and Wales). Legal Aid, along with wills, was operated as a loss leader, and reasonable profits could be made from conveyancing and probate. It all started falling apart in 1990 with the ending of the so-called "conveyancing monopoly", the introduction of advertising, and the beginning of the destruction of Legal Aid. We ceased to be a profession and became a trade; and the law started to become irrelevant for most people.

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