Amnesty hits out at legal aid cuts in new research report
Amnesty International, the human rights charity, published the results of its research on the impact of the legal aid cuts last month. The report, Cuts that hurt: the impact of legal aid cuts in England on access to justice, states that the changes imposed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) have led to a two-tier civil justice system that is ‘open to those who can afford it, but, increasingly closed to the poorest, most vulnerable and most in need of its protection’ (page 3). It focuses primarily on the civil legal aid cuts in three areas – family, immigration and welfare benefits – and documents their impact on a number of specific vulnerable groups including children, migrants and refugees, and people with ‘additional vulnerabilities’ such as mental health problems and other disabilities.
In its conclusions, the report calls on the UK government to immediately review LASPO’s impact on access to justice and the protection of human rights, and to ensure better provision for public legal education. The main recommendations outlined in the report are:
•ensure that children and vulnerable young people are entitled to legal aid, regardless of the legal issue at stake;
•children and families without sufficient means should be able to obtain legal advice, and where litigation is contemplated, legal representation, free of charge where a child’s best interests are engaged;
•restore initial legal advice for private family law cases;
•restore welfare benefits advice funding;
•restore legal aid to all immigration cases where arguable human rights concerns are raised;
•facilitate the provision of meaningful legal information and effective advice for individuals detained under immigration powers;
•ensure that family reunification cases are entitled to legal aid;
•abandon the residence test;
•overhaul the exceptional case funding system to make it more accessible to the public, with advice on entitlement and help making an application;
•work with non-governmental organisations to ensure that those affected by all forms of domestic violence are able to get legal aid in private family law cases; and
•ensure that victims of trafficking are able to exercise their right to seek reparations and hold to account those who have exploited them.
■ Also last month, the TUC published a report calling on the government to conduct an immediate investigation into the impact of budget cuts on access to justice. Justice denied: impacts of the government’s reforms to legal aid and court services on access to justice argues that the cuts to civil legal aid have had a ‘devastating’ impact on access to justice for many vulnerable people.