Austerity is bringing the justice system to its kneesby Selda Krasniqi / August 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
Cuts to public spending have been felt across a range of services, but the effects of austerity on the justice system have been particularly acute. Since 2010/11 spending by the Ministry of Justice has been cut in real terms by 40 per cent. This budget covers “prisons, probation and the legal system.” The reduction in legal aid in areas such as crime mean that the system has reached breaking point and this presents a real risk to access to justice.
Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to a fair hearing in the determination of their civil rights and obligations or of a criminal charge. This principle is otherwise known as equality of arms. In criminal cases everyone has the right to legal assistance and where someone does not have the means to pay they must be “given it free when the interests of justice so require.”
Since the government’s justice cuts begun to come into effect, areas of law including family, immigration and employment have been taken outside the realm of publicly-funded legal representation, leaving some of the most vulnerable “priced out” of justice and unable to access legal assistance.
A recent report by the Justice Select Committee emphasised evidence from the Criminal Bar along with findings from criminal defence solicitors’ firms, which showed that fundamental rights are at risk. It urged a review into the cuts. The Bar Council has recently launched a consultation on legal aid cuts, whilst the Ministry of Justice has restored legal aid for immigration matters for unaccompanied child migrants and also launched a consultation on legal aid for families involved in inquests.