Legal aid cuts could make people feel they cannot access justice and then “take the law into their own hands”, the UK’s most senior judge has said.
Legal aid in England and Wales will be restricted in a range of civil cases from April to cut a current £2bn bill.
Lord Neuberger warns on Legal Aid cuts
President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, told the BBC the changes may even lead to higher court costs.
legal aid will still be avaliable for the most vunerable
The Ministry of Justice said legal aid would still be provided “to those who most need it”.
You may find the savings the government thinks it’s making in legal aid will be offset in other costs of courts and judges and court staff in supporting litigants in person”
The cuts mean people involved in a range of disputes, such as social welfare debt, employment, family problems, clinical negligence, divorce and housing problems will no longer be allowed legal aid.
But funding will continue for some cases including family law involving domestic violence or forced marriage and debt and housing matters where someone’s home is at immediate risk.
It means many people will have to pay privately for advice, find charitable help or represent themselves in trying to solve their disputes.
The proposals are intended to cut the legal aid bill by £350m a year by 2015.
But Lord Neuberger said the consequences could in fact cost the government more.
He told the BBC: “My worry is the removal of legal aid for people to get advice about law and get representation in court will start to undermine the rule of law because people will feel like the government isn’t giving them access to justice in all sorts of cases.
“And that will either lead to frustration and lack of confidence in the system, or it will lead to people taking the law into their own hands.”
Lord Neuberger said another problem would be the increase in the number of people who represent themselves in court because they could not afford or get legal aid for a lawyer.
Burden on court service could see benefits of cuts wiped out in extra administration
“This will mean that court hearings will last longer, the burden on court staff and judges will increase,” he said.