The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act received royal assent earlier this week, after facing many setbacks since it was first introduced just under a year ago.
Lord Bach, a labour party peer commented that it was a ‘bad day for the British justice system’. The legislation will cut off cut off access to justice for many people simply due to financial reasons. He further stated that the law “…demeans our justice system and therefore our country. What we now do is to encourage rich foreign litigants to come to this country and [fight their cases in court]. But we take away from the poor their access to justice. What a scandal that is.”
In the area of clinical negligence specifically, legal aid will remain only when the negligence occurred during the first eight weeks of child birth. Concessions like this were seen a few different areas of law, however it may be too little too late.
Julie Bishop from the Legal Voice magazine online believes legal aid was the safety net that all citizens should be entitled to – “The central principle of equality before the law has been undermined. If we no longer live in a society that protects its most vulnerable members we are all worse off.”
For the legal profession, lawyers who accepted work from clients entitled to legal aid will no longer be able to help them in the majority of cases. Not-for-Profit organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, and other law centres, are already in a crisis of their own – this piece of legislation will undoubtedly add to their burden. The courts have also been faced with warnings of an upsurge in the number clients fighting their own cases – only time will reveal the cost implications that such moves may bring.