Threat to legal aid

Wake up you at the back. This is important!
People can sometimes ask ‘what is so special about lawyers?’ The answer, of course, is nothing. Now if you were to ask ‘what is so special about the law?’ The answer is – everything.
To survive, all societies need laws. Laws govern our behaviour and rights. They are for the common good. Here in England and Wales our laws have become established under what is called the ‘Common Law’ or through Acts of Parliament.
The ‘Common Law’ came into being and develops by way of custom and cases setting precedents when they are decided in the courts. Acts of Parliament give us new laws that the courts have to interpret. Everyone is subject to both criminal and civil laws whether we know them or not. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
If we commit crimes, break contracts or breach a duty that we owe to someone, we can be held to account. If we own property we may be bound by covenants or restrictions; if we rent property we are bound by our tenancy agreement.
From the moment of our conception to even after our death, we are affected by the law.
All of this is just another nicety until we want to enforce the law against someone or we are told that the law is to be enforced against us.
In 1948 the Labour government introduced historic provisions. As well as in the areas of health and education, Legal Aid was established so that no one would be denied access to the law. Over 75 per cent of the population would be covered.
Now just over 30 per cent are entitled to help and £350million is to be cut from the annual budget of £1.2billion. In short, fewer people will get the financial help they need when they come into close contact with the law.
As the current president of the Dewsbury and District Law Society these reductions in funding concern me. In the interests of both lawyers and clients there must be solicitors in our area who provide publiclyfunded services for those in need.
Lack of funding will further reduce rates payable to solicitors, thus making these areas of work unattractive. In addition fewer people will be eligible to claim assistance. The result will be that fewer lawyers will be prepared to take on publicly funded work and fewer people will get assistance at the times when they need it most.
Of course that’s okay so long as you can afford to pay for legal services or you’re one of the ‘lucky ones’ who will still qualify and of course, you can still find a local solicitor doing publicly funded work.
Now ... any questions?

By Andrew Hill of Hellewell, Pasley and Brewer

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