Clients suffer as legal aid organisations are ‘on their knees’, says Unite survey

Further cuts to legal aid will narrow the choice for those seeking justice, as many legal organisations face closure, says a new survey from Unite, the country’s largest union.

The findings are revealed in a snapshot survey by the union of 60 legal and advice workplaces across the UK in the wake of last year’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling is now consulting on a further £220 million of cuts to the legal aid budget, but Unite’s survey said that already organisations providing legal aid were on their knees due to funding cuts and increased demand for their services since the government came to power in 2010.

A third of organisations said they were fearful that they will not survive the next two years.

Unite national officer for the not for profit sector, Sally Kosky, said: “The survey results are shocking. Ninety-three of those surveyed said that their organisation had experienced increased demand since the coalition took office, while 95 per cent had experienced cuts to funding over the last two years.

“Of those, 79 per cent had experienced cuts to legal aid funding with a further 44 per cent experiencing reductions from local government, which itself is experiencing swingeing cuts from Whitehall.

“What is frightening is that should Chris Grayling succeed in imposing a new round of legal aid cuts, the choice for those seeking justice will be narrowed even further as many legal aid organisations already face an uncertain future.

“Legal providers are on their knees – the cuts already imposed should be reversed and those in the pipeline cancelled.

“Comments from the survey highlight that these cuts are a false economy as clients and costs are simply being transferred to other parts of the public sector.

“These re-emerge as mental health problems, in the criminal justice system, as evictions and homelessness, and with children not going to school.

“Others point out that unresolved cases, such as on immigration issues end up costing the public purse much more than if they were dealt with early-on through good advice and legal support."

Unite said that it was wholly against the consultation’s proposals which would amount to “a catastrophic attack on access to justice for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society”.

Unite’s opposition to the planned cuts to the criminal case legal aid budget in England and Wales dovetails with the criticism by retired judge, Sir Anthony Hooper who said it would have a major impact on people who needed lawyers with specialist expertise.