Judges Tell it Like it is
In April 2006 the judiciary published their response to the Carter Review paper Civil and Family Legal Aid: Proposals for Procurement, together with an analysis of legal aid statistics. Their comments are blunt and hard-hitting.
Comparing the figures for 2004-05 with 1995-6, expenditure on civil legal aid has reduced from £378 million to £210 million, whereas expenditure on family legal aid increased from £373 million to £452 million and asylum legal aid from £24 million to £148 million. According to the judiciary:
"There can be no doubt that our civil legal aid system has been brought to its knees in the last twenty years because successive Government initiatives in the fields of criminal justice, family justice, and justice for asylum-seekers did not take into account the legal aid costs of those initiatives. The difficulties in this field caused by a plethora of new criminal justice legislation are very well known. The enactment of the Children Act 1989 (introducing separate legal representation for children) helped the costs of family legal aid to spiral from 1990 onwards. And the more recent extension of legal aid to hearings in the Immigration Appellate Authority was also at the expense of civil legal aid."
"The net cost of civil legal aid has always been relatively low because of the high success rate of legally aided litigants (who recoup their costs from the other side). It is the erosion of the civil legal aid budget (because of uncontrolled expenditure on legal aid in other fields of justice) that has emasculated the civil legal aid scheme."
"The judiciary would be anxious if any further upheaval meant that those who are entitled to civil legal aid did not receive appropriately skilled assistance from suppliers close to their homes because of the vagaries of competitive market-based tendering in which quality of provision (and accessibility to such provision) was not rated very highly. In recent years a number of high quality providers have abandoned legal aid work, to the overall detriment of justice."
"If the purpose of legal aid is to help to ensure a level playing field between vulnerable and disadvantaged people and the state (who is the defendant in most of the fields of law for which legal aid is still available) the quality of the services to be provided is of paramount importance."
"The judiciary’s main concern is that everyone who qualifies financially should have access to legal help (and representation, if necessary) of an appropriate quality which they can access reasonably close to where they live."
The comments can be found on the judiciary's new website