Legal Aid has supportedmany people who cannot afford to hire a legal representative e.g. solicitors,barristers by providing help financially to them. Legal Aid tends to coverpeople who have civil cases to deal with e.g. debt or housing problems and italso provides free legal advice for people who have been arrested and are beingquestioned at a police station for a criminal case. This assignment willprovide a further explanation of legal aid and whether it does provide justicefor everyone and will also argue whether everyone should be eligible for legalaid and whether the support given is sufficient for everyone to be givenjustice.
Legal Aid was firstintroduced by the Labour government in 1949 after the world war II. They also introducedthe National Health Service (NHS) and welfare reforms along with legal aid. However,Legal aid did not affect the public as much as the NHS did, this is because notmany people were going to courts.1 Sincelegal aid began to become more known more people started benefitting from thissupport, the government’s statistics show that in years 2005-2006 they spent£2.
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6bn on legal aid. This clearly shows that legal aid does have an impact inpeople’s cases or hearings at court as these people could not afford to pay forthe legal advice, family mediation or representation in court and therefore thegovernment had to help those who were eligible for it. This legal funding isexceptionally important for everyone because if an individual cannot afford legalrepresentation, then this could end up undermining their right to a fair trial,and this right is protected under Article 6 of the Human Rights Act. The Access to Justice Act1999, was introduced ‘to amend the law of legal in Scotland, to make furtherprovision about legal services; to make provision about appeals, courts, judgesand court proceedings; to amend the law about magistrates and magistrates’ courts;and to make provision about immunity from action and costs and indemnities forcertain officials exercising judicial functions.’2The government provides differentcircumstances in which an individual or family could be in, for them to be ableto get legal aid. Some of these are as follows; whether the individual or hisfamily are at risk of being abused or seriously harmed an example for thiscould be domestic violence or forced marriage, whether an individual is at riskof being homeless or are losing their home, whether an individual has beenaccused of a crime, or has been told to face prison or detention, whether theindividual feels that they are being discriminated against, whether family mediationis required and whether the individual is providing legal arguments or is bringinga case under the Human Rights Act.
3 There are civil cases andcriminal cases which are funded by legal aid. Civil cases are non-criminalcases such as having a debt, family or housing issues. In civil cases, theperson would need to prove that they do not have the money to pay for the legalcosts and that the issue is serious. The person who is requesting legal aidwould need to provide the following; the details and evidence of their income,benefits, savings and property, and those of their partner. In addition, if theperson requesting legal aid is under 19, they would need to give theinformation of their parents’ or guardians’ income.4Furthermore, if anindividual has been convicted of a criminal offence, they may be arrested andtaken to the police station for questioning, once they’re at the police stationhey would be eligible for free legal advice. If the person arrested is underthe age of 16, under 18 and in full-time education or on certain benefits thenthey would automatically get legal aid for legal representation in court.
5However, if a case does go to a Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court then thedefendant would not be eligible for legal aid.It has been reported thatsince the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came intoforce, the access to civil legal aid has been reduced by more than half andthat most of the categories of the law have become ineligible for legal aid. Theamount of civil cases which were given a fund for representation or legaladvice has dropped by 62% with Social welfare and family law being most atrisk.6 This act has taken awaythat ‘legal aid is accessible for all civil cases other than those excluded bythe Access to Justice Act 1999’. Now it has taken many categories of law out ofextent for legal aid. However, the others may only be eligible if they reach acertain criterion. The categories which havebeen taken out of scope are the following; Any family cases with insufficientproof of domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction.
It is reportedthat two thirds of family cases are the defendants representing themselves, Immigrationcases which do not have asylum or detention involved in them, any housing ordebt issues unless they result in an immediate risk to the home, welfarebenefit cases; except appeals to the upper tribunal or high court, nearly allthe clinical negligence cases and employment cases which do not involve humantrafficking or a contravention of the Equality Act 2010.7 Since this act came intoforce it has reduced the amount of cases which can be funded by the government whichtherefore reduces the amount of people with low income to be given justice. Relatingit to the essay question, this proves that Legal Aid is not providing justicefor all as many of the cases have been taken out of scope and therefore the peoplein need for a fund would have to find their own way of paying for their representativesor legal advice e.g. solicitors or barristers.