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.
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.’