British Civil Law Legal Aid System “Running on Empty”, Study Says

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Civil law legal aid system in England and Wales “runs on empty” due to cuts imposed eight years ago which have “damaging effect” on lawyers, study finds

The Bar Council, which represents 17,000 lawyers, interviewed lawyers and clerks working in areas such as housing, immigration and family law who have been affected by the Legal Aid Act, the sentencing and punishment of offenders came into effect in April 2013 and removed large swathes of disputes to be eligible for legal aid funding.

Many lawyers have said that compared to 2013, they are now earning a significantly lower hourly rate in terms of cash, according to the study released Thursday.

Derek Sweeting QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said the consequences of underfunding the civil legal aid system would continue to snowball if no action is taken. “Our report finds a civil legal aid system operating on an empty tank, sustained by nothing more than the goodwill of the legal profession. This is not a sustainable way of securing the future of such an essential service for the public. ” he said.

The report highlighted the difficulties the legal aid system faced for grieving families who sought representation in investigations. This area has never been part of the legal aid system and anyone wishing to be represented must apply for “exceptional funding”, for example for reasons of public interest.

However, the Bar Council study found that many lawyers felt the fixed costs for investigations were too low to properly prepare a complex case such as the death of an inmate – where a junior lawyer representing the family might well. deal with more experienced lawyers representing public bodies such as the police or the Department of Justice.

“This means that, in practice, a bereaved family is likely to be represented by a junior lawyer who, despite all efforts, has not had the time or resources to fully familiarize themselves with the context,” said the report of the Bar Council.

The study also found that senior lawyers said they were forced to shift away from legal aid work in favor of higher-paying private sector work or take more cases to stay afloat financially. The report said this led to legal aid lawyers “working all nights, weekends, and 60- or 70-hour work weeks.”

Emma Manning, Principal Clerk at Garden Court Chambers, is quoted in the report as saying: “Over the course of my career I think the main thing that has happened is that lawyers and notaries work harder for less money. money. For lawyers, funding cuts have taken place that have reduced hourly rates or eliminated funding altogether. “

The study also shed light on lawyers’ concerns about recent government attacks on “militant lawyers”.

Stephanie Harrison QC, a human rights lawyer cited in the study, said: “I think they, the government, literally see those who practice legal aid as a thorn in the side, and they even seek to undermine them by calling them “militant” lawyers, lawyers who represent people and defend their rights in a politically sensitive area.


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