The damage to justice with cuts to our Legal Aid

John McNulty

John McNulty

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Solicitor with Turpin & Miller. If you have a legal question for the Turpin & Miller team ring 01865 770111 or email jmcnulty@turpinmiller.co.uk

Legal Aid, which is the provision of advice and representation in court to people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer, was established by the Labour Government in 1949 and revered as one of the principal pillars of the Post-War Welfare State.

Legal Aid fees have been on the decline since 1998 under the Labour Government, but it is the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) which came into force last year, which has almost totally killed off Legal Aid in this country.

There has been no public outcry and the public understandably care more about cuts to education or cuts to Health than cuts to legal aid. Now however the cuts have been with us for one year. It is illuminating to consider the impact they have had on individuals that I see on a daily basis in this office.

I specialise in housing cases. Legal Aid is generally only available if you are at imminent risk of losing your home. It is therefore not available to a tenant who was harassed by a couple of landlords to the extent that her gas and electricity were cut off and she faced crowbar wielding thugs at the door of her flat. The tenant sought help as to whether she could take proceedings against the landlord and I had to inform her that no Legal Aid would be available.

It was also not available to a young girl I saw last week, who following an involvement with social services has had her baby removed and given to her partner and his parents. The young girl now wants to get the baby back, but there is no Legal Aid available to secure any form of custody order.

Let’s take housing disrepair. Housing disrepair has largely had Legal Aid withdrawn from it. This means that people cannot secure assistance of a lawyer to take a landlord to court for housing disrepair issues. The result is of course that people will live in worse housing conditions and indeed, some of those conditions are severely prejudicial to health.

It is no longer possible to get Legal Aid to pursue any form of damages claim. This includes claims against the police, harassment by a landlord, negligence by private individual or public authority. This means that many of the cases that I was able to take on in the past, I can no longer take. They have included elderly parents swindled by their children, rogue Landlords who have harassed and bullied tenants and incompetent solicitors who have cost clients their life savings There has been complete withdrawal of Legal Aid for advice concerning welfare benefit and debt issues. This coincided with a radical reform of benefits so individuals on low incomes cannot get advice as to whether they are being accurately calculated.

What has also been lost is not only the closure of local Legal Aid firms up and down the country, but also the loss of some serious specialist expertise.

Whether a saving has been made to the public purse is yet to be determined. The damage to access to justice is however, not quantifiable.

Comments (5)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

10:54am Thu 1 May 14

Quentin Walker says...

This is a one-sided story written by a man who makes his living from Legal Aid.

Could the Oxford Mail show balanced reporting by printing an alternative view?
This is a one-sided story written by a man who makes his living from Legal Aid. Could the Oxford Mail show balanced reporting by printing an alternative view? Quentin Walker
  • Score: -2

12:19pm Thu 1 May 14

HomerSimpsonDoh says...

Just wait until you get accussed of something you didn't do and want legal aid. Then your tune will change. Why should only the rich be able to get the best legal advice.
Just wait until you get accussed of something you didn't do and want legal aid. Then your tune will change. Why should only the rich be able to get the best legal advice. HomerSimpsonDoh
  • Score: 5

1:43pm Thu 1 May 14

Lord Palmerstone says...

HomerSimpsonDoh wrote:
Just wait until you get accussed of something you didn't do and want legal aid. Then your tune will change. Why should only the rich be able to get the best legal advice.
You are talking about criminal legal aid , I think. It is available to the indigent so you need have no fear on that score. It depends on what you mean by "rich" but , taking a person with a decent job against whom the State maniacally throws all its tax funded weight- say because she is alleged to have touched someone "inappropriately" 40 years ago; then when she is acquitted (and how sad that CPS is too terrified of single issue fascists to bin all the "historical" rubbish and instead leaves it to juries which are more sensible than civil servants) she will not get the costs of her defence back, only a fraction. It saves precious little money and anyway we apparently have billions to give to foreign dictators to buy big cars and guns ("overseas aid" Cameron says he's so proud of) so why on earth is it worth saving about 4P?
As to the gent who did the article, he appears to be saying Oxford City won't pursue bad landlords who intimidate tenants. Does he have evidence for saying tenants have to pursue harassment cases themselves? My experience, and I hate to say this, is that the City Council is actually pretty tough on rogue landlords and don't deserve opprobrium from Mr McNulty who's so poor he can't even afford a 50P Oxfam shop tie.
[quote][p][bold]HomerSimpsonDoh[/bold] wrote: Just wait until you get accussed of something you didn't do and want legal aid. Then your tune will change. Why should only the rich be able to get the best legal advice.[/p][/quote]You are talking about criminal legal aid , I think. It is available to the indigent so you need have no fear on that score. It depends on what you mean by "rich" but , taking a person with a decent job against whom the State maniacally throws all its tax funded weight- say because she is alleged to have touched someone "inappropriately" 40 years ago; then when she is acquitted (and how sad that CPS is too terrified of single issue fascists to bin all the "historical" rubbish and instead leaves it to juries which are more sensible than civil servants) she will not get the costs of her defence back, only a fraction. It saves precious little money and anyway we apparently have billions to give to foreign dictators to buy big cars and guns ("overseas aid" Cameron says he's so proud of) so why on earth is it worth saving about 4P? As to the gent who did the article, he appears to be saying Oxford City won't pursue bad landlords who intimidate tenants. Does he have evidence for saying tenants have to pursue harassment cases themselves? My experience, and I hate to say this, is that the City Council is actually pretty tough on rogue landlords and don't deserve opprobrium from Mr McNulty who's so poor he can't even afford a 50P Oxfam shop tie. Lord Palmerstone
  • Score: 1

2:44pm Thu 1 May 14

Quentin Walker says...

HomerSimpsonDoh wrote:
Just wait until you get accussed of something you didn't do and want legal aid. Then your tune will change. Why should only the rich be able to get the best legal advice.
My dear chap, if you examine my post carefully, you will note I show neither support or otherwise for Legal Aid.

I merely took the OM to task for unbalanced reporting.
[quote][p][bold]HomerSimpsonDoh[/bold] wrote: Just wait until you get accussed of something you didn't do and want legal aid. Then your tune will change. Why should only the rich be able to get the best legal advice.[/p][/quote]My dear chap, if you examine my post carefully, you will note I show neither support or otherwise for Legal Aid. I merely took the OM to task for unbalanced reporting. Quentin Walker
  • Score: 1

3:09pm Thu 1 May 14

Lord Palmerstone says...

Quentin Walker wrote:
HomerSimpsonDoh wrote:
Just wait until you get accussed of something you didn't do and want legal aid. Then your tune will change. Why should only the rich be able to get the best legal advice.
My dear chap, if you examine my post carefully, you will note I show neither support or otherwise for Legal Aid.

I merely took the OM to task for unbalanced reporting.
Ok I'll try to do the "cons"
I've covered landlord harassment already and what John describes is major crime anyway, Crown Court, prison, Restraining Orders, not civil stuff that he 's talking about.. I would have thought the Council will deal with disrepair cases. The houses in multi occupancy legislation allows them to. As for the young lady and her child perhaps someone from the State can explain that one. Family courts in this country are fairly notorious already. Perhaps old folk who'd have left their cash to some political set-up like the RSPCA could be persuaded to leave it to an organisation dedicated to cleaning up the Social Services stranglehold of the family courts. Offspring who've pocketed mum and dad's cash? Criminal law surely? POCA much stronger than any civil remedy. Inept solicitors? The solicitors' indemnity fund? The solicitors' disciplinary proceedings? Can't see a problem. Tell us John.
[quote][p][bold]Quentin Walker[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]HomerSimpsonDoh[/bold] wrote: Just wait until you get accussed of something you didn't do and want legal aid. Then your tune will change. Why should only the rich be able to get the best legal advice.[/p][/quote]My dear chap, if you examine my post carefully, you will note I show neither support or otherwise for Legal Aid. I merely took the OM to task for unbalanced reporting.[/p][/quote]Ok I'll try to do the "cons" I've covered landlord harassment already and what John describes is major crime anyway, Crown Court, prison, Restraining Orders, not civil stuff that he 's talking about.. I would have thought the Council will deal with disrepair cases. The houses in multi occupancy legislation allows them to. As for the young lady and her child perhaps someone from the State can explain that one. Family courts in this country are fairly notorious already. Perhaps old folk who'd have left their cash to some political set-up like the RSPCA could be persuaded to leave it to an organisation dedicated to cleaning up the Social Services stranglehold of the family courts. Offspring who've pocketed mum and dad's cash? Criminal law surely? POCA much stronger than any civil remedy. Inept solicitors? The solicitors' indemnity fund? The solicitors' disciplinary proceedings? Can't see a problem. Tell us John. Lord Palmerstone
  • Score: 0

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree