The Transformation of Access to Law and Justice in England and Wales 60 Years On
23 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2009
Date Written: November 21, 2009
It is the 60th birthday of legal aid in the UK. The question asked in this paper is: has legal aid reached the end of its life or is it about to enter a new third age? The UK has the highest spend on legal aid of any country in the world, running to over £2 billion a year. The vast majority of this goes on criminal legal aid of which a considerable portion pays for very high cost criminal cases. Civil legal aid is the rump receiving whatever is left over after criminal work has been paid for.
Over the last 60 years legal aid has gone from near universal coverage to a very limited range of work which is now mostly taken up with family and welfare aid. Means and merits tests exclude most people from accessing legal aid.
The supplement/replacement to legal aid has come from the insurance industry with After the Event and Before the Event insurance policies guaranteeing some access to law and justice. Third party litigation funding is also gathering force.
The largest component, however, of civil justice in the modern era is in auxillary forms of justice, most notably in the rise of complaints procedures and ombudsmen. In the example used in the paper, the Financial Ombudsman Service, is ranked as the busiest adjudicator in the country dealing with over 700,000 complaints a year.
Legal aid has been shrunk by government and has now become part of a mixed model of the delivery of legal services. Whether this will be sufficient to fight Beveridge's five ‘Giant Evils’ of Want (poverty), Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness (unemployment) is still an open question.
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