Justice – Advancing access to justice, human rights and the rule of law
After the Act: what future for legal aid?
JUSTICE Tom Sargant memorial annual lecture 2012
Legal aid is under threat as never before. The government intends to cut spending by around a quarter. Client eligibility will be slashed by the recently passed Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. And practitioners are likely to face a squeeze on their remuneration and a restriction on their ability to undertake legal aid cases.
In 1991, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, then Conservative Lord Chancellor, said: ‘We are just about at the limit of what is possible without radical change’. The extent of the proposed cuts means radical change is now inevitable. The most likely course may be a period of steady decline – like that experienced by legal services in the US from the 1970s onward. But, are there any positive outcomes that might be advanced within the cuts to which any government is realistically likely to be committed? If so, what might they be and what might be done to advance a positive agenda within a depressing overall context?
Roger Smith OBE has been involved in legal aid since the early 1970s when he helped to negotiate law centres’ waiver from Law Society restrictions on their practice. As a law centre solicitor, he specialised in legally aided housing and juvenile work. At the Child Poverty Action Group in the early 1980s, he helped to develop judicial review very much with the assistance of legal aid. As director of the Legal Action Group, he published widely on legal aid developments both in this country and abroad. As director of JUSTICE, he currently edits a joint bimonthly JUSTICE-International Legal Aid Group newsletter on international developments and writes widely on matters relating to legal aid, legal services and human rights.
Roger Smith OBE, director of JUSTICE
16 October 2012