LegalAid is merely known as being a “system of government funding for those whocannot afford to pay for legal advice, assistance and representation.”1The Legal Aid Act2 waspassed in 1949 with the aspiration that everyone would have equal access to thejustice system.
There are different kinds of legal aid, and it can be of helpin many ways, whether it is “legal advice and assistance… civil legal aid and…criminallegal aid.”3 Forexample, you can get represented if you are being “arrested, charged or questionedby police”, if you are experiencing family issues or if you are beingdiscriminated against.4Although it was created to help those who are not able to afford legalrepresentation, it is very hard to become eligible for it, thus not necessarilybeing accessible to everyone. Taking into account the three main strands ofLegal Aid, this essay will evaluate whether Legal Aid does offer justice forevery individual in society, and whether it is effective.
LegalAid was introduced by Atlee’s Labour government in 1949, who took under considerationthe findings from the Rushcliffe Report, where it was stated that “Legal Aidshould be available in all Courts… those who cannot afford to pay anything forlegal aid should receive this free of cost.”5Thus, one of the main reasons why Legal Aid was introduced is to provideeveryone with the same opportunity of being able to be represented in courtjust the same as those who are well-off and can easily hire any solicitor theywant to fight their case in court. Byapplying for this aid, an individual can receive legal advice by a solicitor.This is outlined by the Access to Justice Act 1999 s16.Legal advice is usually given when you are at the police station, where “youhave the right to free independent legal advice from a duty solicitor.” Thishowever applies to everyone, regardless of the fact that one may not beeligible for Legal Aid. If the individual being arrested cannot afford theirown solicitor and if they have “a contract with the Legal Aid Agency”, they canultimately be able to have their own solicitor and may contact them whenever.7The solicitors can “give general advice, write letters or get a barrister’s opinion.
“This can also be called pro bono, since the lawyers are giving free advice. Another service provided through Legal Aid is helpwith civil issues such as “family, housing, discrimination”8and so on. In addition, legal aid can also offer support when it comes to crime.For example, “being arrested, charged or questioned by the police,”9where, as mentioned before, those individuals can contact a solicitor and getadvice for free. LegalAid has helped many individuals ever since it became law in 1949, with thousandsof hundred cases being tackled.
For instance, the Stephen Lawrence case wastaken on a ‘legal aid basis’, and the case was a victory. This legal aid case “raisedsearching questions about racism in Britain.”10If legal aid did not exist, this case would therefore not have been taken intoconsideration and would be left alone, with the murderers lurking around untilthis present day. Despite the fact that the purpose of legal aidis to make society more equal, it does have its defects and over the past fewyears the usefulness of legal aid has slowly diminished. For instance, thegovernment cut their annual spending “on legal aid down from the 2009/2010 peakof £2.2 billion to £1.6 billion in 2015/2016.
“11This resulted in “a number of areas of law” that are no longer “covered.”12Forexample, “family law cases… as well as almost all cases involving socialwelfare, housing, medical negligence”13and so forth. The government cuts show us that the reason why legal aid wascreated in the first place is not taken into account anymore. Legal aid wassupposed to include every case that an individual needed to be represented in.However, in contemporary society it is very hard to be eligible for legal aid, sinceyou cannot be represented if your case involves most civil issues, such asfamily matters.
Therefore, Legal aid can be said not to be for everyone, asmany people are now left unrepresented. Inaddition, it is very hard to be permitted legal aid. The financial calculationsthemselves are over-complicated.
They firstly have to find out what yourmonthly income is, and it if is “£2,657 or less, your solicitor will then checkwhat your disposable income is.”14If after having paid all of your expenses and you are left with “over £315, youwill have to pay a monthly contribution if you’re getting Legal Representation.”15If you do not work, then your “capital will be looked at,”16whereby they will oversee your possessions. It is also not seen as fair thateven if one that has applied for legal aid and has won a case, “alternativemeans of paying a lawyer’s fee”17need to be found, “whether based on insurance or parceling out of the winner’saward of damages.” It is therefore not just and fair when although they win acase, they are left with nothing.
Furthermore, it is not equal since this wouldnot happen to those that are part of the high spectrum of society (those whoare well-off).1 Legal Aid Board, Legal Aid Handbook 1992(published in1992, Sweet & Maxwell) 32 Legal Aid and Advice Act 19493 Legal Aid Board, Legal Aid Handbook 1992(published in1992, Sweet & Maxwell) 34 The Law Society, ‘Legal Aid’ http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/for-the-public/paying-for-legal-services/legal-aid/accessed 27 January 20185 Reginald Heber Smith, ‘Legal Aidand Advice: The Rushcliffe Report as a Land-Mark’ page 446 (published byAmerican Bar Association) http://0-www.jstor.org.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/stable/pdf/25715955.pdf?refreqid=search%3A8fa857af204a0912dad3b9932fd2b99caccessed 28 January 20186 Access to Justice Act 1999 s17 Helpwith legal costs- legal aid, ‘free legal advice at the police station’, https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/wales/law-and-courts/legal-system/taking-legal-action/help-with-legal-costs-legal-aid/accessed 27 January 2018 8Legalaid, ‘cases where you can get legal aid’, http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/for-the-public/paying-for-legal-services/legal-aid/accessed 27 January 20189ibid.10Vikram Dodd and Sandra Laville, ‘Stephen Lawrence verdict: Dobson and Norrisguilty of racist murder’ https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/jan/03/stephen-lawrence-verdict-guilty-murderaccessed 27 January 201811 SarahMoore and Alex Newbury, Legal Aid inCrisis (first published in 2017, Policy Press) 412ibid13 ibid14Help with costs- legal aid, ‘Legal aid if you have income’ https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/wales/law-and-courts/legal-system/taking-legal-action/help-with-legal-costs-legal-aid/accessed 28 January 201815ibid16Help with costs- legal aid, ‘Legal aid if you have capital’ https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/wales/law-and-courts/legal-system/taking-legal-action/help-with-legal-costs-legal-aid/accessed 28 January 201817Alastair Hudson, Towards a Just Society(first published 1999, A Cassell imprint) 3