Justice in a Time of Austerity: Stories From a System in Crisis
Jon Robins and Daniel Newman
£19.99, Bristol University Press
Legal aid has always been an unfashionable subject. Governments of whatever colour both want to cut budgets and have ‘value for money’, meaning spend less. The current government mantra is to have a high-skills, high-wages economy, which may strike an off-note with legal aid lawyers whose fees have decreased in real terms over the years. There is a lot of negative publicity about legal aid and the media often focus on ‘fat cat’ lawyers and funds given to undesirable people for what is seen as trivial matters.
This book is an in-depth examination of the effect of legal aid cuts – mainly on law centres – caused by the LASPO changes nearly 10 years ago. In many areas, legal aid was almost wiped out. I am not sure that better legal aid would cure all of society’s ills but much needs to be done to reinvigorate a system which is a basic right, like the NHS. The authors correctly point out the hypocrisy in some politicians saying that they are committed to access to justice and believe in basic rights but then reduce rights.
There are interesting points about the sometimes lavish spending on court buildings and a report that the sale of 126 court premises in 2010 raised just £34m, with each going for about the cost of an average house. There are also powerful arguments to improve the legal aid system which needs to be clear, comprehensive, easy to use and local. There are wider issues as well about the shortage of lawyers willing to do this work.
The authors make a powerful case for better legal aid.
David Pickup is a partner at Pickup & Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury
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