Cuts to legal aid were the subject of a heated exchange between the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, and Theresa May, at prime minister’s questions
last week (10
Corbyn attacked the Tory-Lib Dem coalition for slashing legal aid in 2013 with the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. He said that ‘the results are clearly very unfair’ and observed that the number of ‘Law Centres and other not-for-profit legal aid providers has more than halved’. According to the Labour leader, ‘there are now legal aid deserts across the country’.
The prime minster responded by saying that Labour would have ‘done a darned sight more when they were in power’ if they were serious about dealing with ‘burning injustices’.
Corbyn raised the case of Marcus, a pensioner on means-tested benefits facing eviction and unable to obtain legal aid. He asked the prime minister: ‘Doesn’t Marcus, trying to save his own home, deserve legal aid, in order to get proper representation in a court and be fairly heard?’
May responded by saying she recognised the ‘concerns’ about the case but that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spends 25 per cent of its budget on legal aid and that the department had recently published its plans ‘to maintain and improve access to support for those in need’ (see ‘The Legal Support Action Plan: too little too late?
On 4 July, shadow lord chancellor, Richard Burgon, highlighted the cuts to Law Centres and not-for-profit agencies in a written parliamentary question
. According to the MoJ’s statistics, funding from legal aid to Law Centres reduced from £12.1m in 2010/11 to £7.1m in 2018/19. The number of areas covered by not-for-profit agencies funded by legal aid has also dropped from 94 in 2013/14 to 47 currently.