Karen Buck leads legal aid debate in House of Commons
We cannot have meaningful rights without the means of enforcing them, says MP
07 September, 2018 — By Priya Bryant
Legal aid lawyer morale at all time low
KAREN Buck led a debate about a shocking impact of legal aid cuts since they were introduced six years ago.
The MP for Westminster North, who chairs an all-party group monitoring legal aid, said the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 had hit groups with “protected characteristics” under the law, including people with mental health diagnoses and children.
The act is up for review and Ms Buck told the Commons that, with Brexit looming, the government must “future-proof our system of access to justice”.
She said the legal system was in “crisis”, adding: “We cannot have meaningful rights without the means of enforcing them, and we cannot have meaningful justice if people have no way of accessing it.”
The debate heard that between 2011/12 and 2016/17, the number of benefits dispute cases where legal aid was granted had fallen by 99 per cent.
The MP said the cuts “carry the real risk of preventing the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms”. She said the cuts had created “advice deserts” – areas of the country where legal advice and representation are “close to non-existent”.
This was leading to people representing themselves in court since they cannot access aid and drawing out the length of court proceedings and costing the taxpayer more money.
Ms Buck said serious damage was being caused to morale of legal aid lawyers, citing one who had not had a pay rise in 22 years.
Lucy Frazer, Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, did not respond to many of Ms Buck’s criticisms, but did say there would be a better supply of legal aid lawyers in the future.