As lawyers, what are we doing about vulnerable people denied access to justice? Most notably:
- Spouses, predominantly women, who are unable to oppose controlling partners in relation to finance and children issues because of their failure to obtain public funding. A statutory provision that enables spouses to apply for funding from their partners has so many hurdles it is rarely used.
- In employment cases the number of claims has diminished because of the fees. Dismissed employees are supposed to find this money at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.
- The new criminal fees, introduced almost unnoticed before the election, mean many people on benefits will plead guilty rather than risk a trial. Those who commit crime because of poverty will also have extra, non-means-tested penalties foisted on them, driving them to reoffend or to despair.
Judges and magistrates are not able to comment on how all this affects the administration of justice. If solicitors and barristers cannot stand up for these people, who will?
Ian Godfrey, senior partner/director, Shepherd Harris & Co, Enfield