Labour will restore all legal aid advice – Richard Burgon
Richard Burgon MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, today announced that Labour will reverse all the Conservative cuts to legal aid-funded Early Legal Help within the first 100 days of a Jeremy Corbyn government.
Early Legal Help is the legal support that people receive prior to a lawyer representing them in the courts. It is the kind of advice that many desperately need when faced everyday problems such as flawed benefits decisions or rogue landlords.
Access to justice has been seriously undermined by the Tory and Liberal Democrats changes to legal aid, with hundreds of thousands of people unable to enforce their rights.
In addition to Labour’s previous commitments to restore this form of legal aid for housing cases, family law and welfare benefits appeals, this move will restore legal aid cuts for immigration cases, employment, debt, and mental health cases.
A lack of early legal advice often creates extra costs for the taxpayer as cases go to court which could have been resolved earlier or spiral into costly social problems as people unnecessarily lose their homes or jobs.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has said that cuts in legal aid meant many could no longer afford “to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy.”
Richard Burgon MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said:
“The Tories have rigged the system against the people who need help the most, and in favour of a privileged few.
“Tory cuts to legal advice mean hundreds of thousands of people are unable to defend their hard-won rights. When that happens, equality before the law is a fiction, and without these protections people’s lives can often be torn apart.
“In restoring this legal support, Labour will help ensure people can challenge the discrimination and abuses of power that they too often face in their everyday lives.”
Notes to Editors
- Early Legal Help is the term used to cover legal-aid advice and assistance provided for a legal problem. It is the kind of legal advice that many need when faced with flawed benefits decisions or a rogue landlord.
- The introduction of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in April 2013 left many vulnerable people unable to defend themselves in areas as fundamental as housing, employment, immigration and welfare benefits.
- Since the 2013 changes to legal aid, the total number of Early Legal Help cases has fallen by 450,000
|Table 5.2: Legal help and controlled legal representation claims submitted|
|Total volume claims submitted|
- In some areas, the fall is even greater, with the numbers receiving state-funded legal help in welfare benefits cases down over 99 per cent, from 18,452 to just 113 cases. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/legal-aid-statistics-january-to-march-2019
- To restore this legal aid to pre-Laspo levels will cost an estimated £36m made up of the following: Immigration (£9m), Employment (£5m), Debt (£17m), Mental Health (£5m). Source: Table 5.3 Legal Aid Statistics England and Wales bulletin https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/legal-aid-statistics-january-to-march-2019
- Restoring legal-aid funded Early Legal Help is one of the recommendations of the report into Legal Aid undertaken for the Labour Party by Lord Bach. http://www.fabians.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Bach-Commission_Right-to-Justice-Report-WEB.pdf
- The Law Society of England and Wales has argued that early legal advice is more cost-effective and has campaigned for legal aid to be reintroduced for early legal advice https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/cost-of-court-time-highlights-need-early-legal-advice/
- The President of the Supreme Court, Lady Justice Hale, has described the government’s legal aid reforms as “a false economy”. She said “so many legal problems can be solved” by early advice https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/hale-backs-public-funding-early-legal-advice-outlining-concern-legal-services-board-reform-plan
- There is widespread evidence of how social problems such as homelessness, soaring personal debt or reliance on food banks can be avoided by early legal intervention. The 2014 report “The Business Case for Social Welfare Advice Services” cites a Citizens Advice study which estimates that every £1 of legal aid spent on housing advice can potentially save the state £2.34; for debt advice it’s £2.98; and on employment advice it can be £7.13. https://www.lag.org.uk/?fileid=-17039
Labour’s Legal Aid Offer
- Labour’s 2017 Manifesto committed to:
- Re-establish early advice entitlements in the Family Courts.
- Reintroduce funding for the preparation of judicial review cases.
- Review the legal aid means tests, including the capital test for those on income-related benefits.
Since the 2017 election Labour has
- Committed to restoring legal advice in all housing cases. Helping around 50,000 households per year enforce housing rights, giving a better deal to tenants. https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/apr/20/labour-promises-to-restore-legal-aid-for-housing-advice
- We have committed to restoring legal aid in Welfare benefits cases which would help around 90,000 claimants per year https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/dec/04/labour-vows-to-restore-legal-aid-for-benefits-appeal-cases-if-elected
iii. Committed to automatic legal aid for the 500 or so deaths that occur in state custody per year https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/feb/27/labour-promises-automatic-legal-aid-for-state-related-deaths
- We have promised a new era for Law Centres and are working closely with the Law Centres Network to produce a detailed plan. Labour wants to empower the communities most affected by Conservative cuts to be able to defend their rights and fight back against unjust legal decisions
- And a Labour government will also boost the number of lawyers being trained up in law centres so that we recruit the next generation of socially orientated lawyers who provide so much practical assistance to people facing tough times through no fault of their own.