Published: 7 July 2015
Senior Judge Sir Nicholas Mostyn has strongly criticised the government cuts to legal aid in a speech in Australia about access to justice in family proceedings.
After the 2008 financial crisis, some say it was predictable that the coalition government would introduce more cuts to the legal aid system. What wasn’t anticipated was the extent of these cuts and just how much it would affect the entire system and those within it. Hardest hit were those with family disputes, which would see couples representing themselves independently in court over matters such as the child residency and custody, which could last up to 6 months due to no or limited legal representation.
Criticisms have been aimed at the cuts to legal aid, with many family law experts warning that more are to be announced under a Conservative government. This comes at a time when criminal law solicitors have taken strike action against these cuts on their pay and their services towards the public.
"What no-one anticipated was the savagery of the cuts, with private family law proceedings, save in certain very limited circumstances, being taken out of scope altogether", said Mr Justice Mostyn.
"Even allowing for the need to make cuts in order to reduce the fiscal deficit, I do not accept that in the critically important area of private family law it has been necessary to sacrifice individual justice on the altar of the public debt, at least not to the extent that has happened. It is not clear to me why this particular pillar of the welfare state has had to fall", he added.
Sadly, it appears that cuts may be appearing in the pipe-line once more, as of May 7th when the Conservatives were elected for the 2nd time, there is no sign of relief or reversal of these cuts.
Not only is the situation affecting families, but also law firms which have been subjected to rejecting cases due to these money cuts, and so being unable to support those who are in need of help.
According to Mr Justice Mostyn, he believes that "an underclass of people disenfranchised from civil justice and indifferent to the rule of law was slowly but surely being fulfilled." Thus leading to a barrage of litigants in person, as funding slowly plummets for the public and law businesses.
However, for more complicated cases, which may involve criminal acts, new legislation may need to be put into place, as it would prove difficult for a litigant in person to go ahead with the correct procedures that may be sensitive within the case. Also due to the cuts, evidence such as alcohol or drug tests, are being brushed aside as they were proving to be too expensive without legal aid, resulting in important evidence being neglected.
Justice Mostyn concluded his speech saying that the declining commitment of both the Australian and UK government to put "genuine equality before the law and to the cluster of rule of law concepts should put a brake on meretricious rhetoric and produce calls for fidelity to the ideals which they both claim."
Also guidelines are being created to decide what judges are able to discuss about government policy and planned legislation, to ensure that they are neither against nor supporting the decisions that have been put into place.
Overall it appears the sustainability of the justice system is slowly crumbling which will affect the economic foundation and trust from the public, even more so from those who enforce the law.
If you are being affected by a family dispute or your relationship is on the verge of a breakdown then K J Smith Solicitors are here to help. Our team of family law specialists work with you deliver positive outcomes and practical solutions for you and your family. For more information, or to arrange a free 45 minute consultation, please contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor) or 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.