The fragmentation of advice services caused by civil legal aid cuts is undermining community cohesion, members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on legal aid heard, as practitioners called on all three main parties to include a legal advice strategy in their manifestos.
Months away from next year’s general election, Ruth Hayes, co–chair of the Law Centres Network and director of Islington Law Centre, said since the civil legal aid cuts were introduced last April, the provision of advice has become fragmented.
Funding streams, Hayes said, are targeted to assist in particular geographic areas.
She added: ‘Once you’ve lost universal access through legal aid you end up with real injustice.’
Hayes said those seeking help who are turned away cannot understand why they are not being given help when others in a similar position, but in a different borough or different age-group, are.
‘There is a real cost in turning people away – it undermines community cohesion,’ she said.
Hayes called for a legal advice strategy to replace the ‘pockets of funding’ currently available which she said are inadequate.
Cross-bencher Lord Low, who authored a report on the future of civil legal advice, echoed the call for a strategy.
He urged the political parties to include in their manifestos elements of his recommendations, which included greater funding and a cross-party minister.
Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter (pictured) accused the government of ‘running down’ the justice system and ‘depriving every part’ of it of resources.
He said the scale of the task that would be faced by a future Labour government, if elected, would in large part be to ‘repair the damage’, and said his party would have to look at an ‘emerging list of priorities’.
Among those, he suggested, might be revisiting the exceptional funding scheme, the domestic violence gateway for family legal aid eligibility and the use of mediation.