The Access of Legal Aid to People with Different Income

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Specialized help for people facing court and criminal repercussions was not provided for defendants until 1836 (Chris Hale et al., 2005, p. 415). However, Legal Aid wasn’t established until 1949, which alongside the Advice Act allowed people legal representation and advice whilst in and outside of court (Peter Joyce, 2006, p. 232). Legal Aid was replaced by “The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act” (LASPO) 2012 which was introduced to reduce the cost of government funded legal aid. (Willey, 2014, p. 501). Since LASPO (2012) was introduced there have been many issues with its reliability in regards to its original endorsements of improving legal aid. This essay will explain the justifications of the introduction of LASPO (2012) against legal aid and the extent of the evident consequences, deliberate and accidental, of such changes.

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Morgan (1994, p.67) stated that when legal aid was first introduced it was accessible to over 80% of people based solely on their income. The Legal Services Commission (LCS) was previously responsible for overlooking legal aid, but as of 1 April 2013, since LASPO (2012) was introduced, LCS was substituted for the Legal Aid Agency (GOV.UK, n.d.). This meant that those who were able to access legal aid has decreased with those needing exceptional funding instead increasing as they do not meet the means test criteria, but only 5% who required exceptional funding were granted such (National Audit Office, 2014). These requests for exceptional funding are due to the government wanting to decrease the amount spent within the legal aid system by cutting civil aid from areas such as welfare, housing and family related court issues (Gilbert, 2018). The government wanted to implement these regulations with the desire to decrease the number of people accessing legal aid as before LASPO (2012), legal aid was offered to anyone who could not afford it, completely free paid for by the state, whilst since LASPO (2012) the possibility of the use of mediation whereby the need for lawyers would not be necessary has been pursued as there would be no law involvement within the court system, thereby no legal aid funding required (Kaganas, 2017).

The means tests criteria is used to decide who requires the use of legal aid based upon the eligibility criteria surrounding gross household income and family situations such as the age of the children on their next birthday; each of these creates a weight in which they are calculated to an overall weight which their overall income is divided by to see if they pass the means test which they would need the total of under £12,475 to be funded in all courts (GOV.UK, 2018). The change in the means test since the introduction of LASPO (2012) has seen an overall decrease in the amount funded for legal aid decline by about £586,000 since 2012-2013 (GOV.UK, 2018). It has also led to the need for legal aid being rejected until when it becomes absolutely necessary with the legal event becoming particularly bad before people try to access legal aid, and if that is not granted, exceptional funding (Young Legal Aid Lawyers, 2018). This means that the help that may be required may not be granted, or if it is, it may not be substantial due to the problem becoming too extreme before any legal aid help is asked for.

Lord Neuberger (2013) stated that the changes made to the mean test has meant that only 30% of the English and Welsh population is now eligible for legal aid, however, in comparison to the American legal aid system who only provide aid for about 50,000 people (LCS, 2017), England and Wales provided 140,341 people with legal aid in 2017-2018 (GOV,UK, 2018). This indicates how although LASPO (2012) has decreased he number of people receiving legal aid in England and Wales, more people are still provided with legal aid than others in different countries. However, focusing upon those in England and Wales who are no longer receiving legal aid due to the changes to the means test due to LASPO (2012), they are now self-representing in court. With those self-representing in court with no proper legal aid or legal training, they are likely to struggle in court with legal jargon. Very few people are successful in representing themselves in court and if they are they suffer from psychological damages as seen with Ian Howgate (Dominic Gilbert, 2018). After not receiving legal aid and unable to afford the costs of a solicitor, Ian Howgate had to represent himself, winning both court cases but losing on his mental health. He now suffers from PTSD due to the lack of legal aid provided. This indicates a macro, unintentional consequence of LASPO (2012), as the financial cuts to legal aid was not planned to cause psychological harm to people, but rather to financially help tax payers with not having to pay as much by cutting the finances to legal aid (Felicity Kaganas, 2017). This consequence could have been avoided if LASPO (2012) had not made financial cuts, as Chris Hale (___) stated, lawyers provided through legal aid can be better than private lawyers so by eliminating people’s eligibility of legal aid because of the changes made in LASPO (2012), more people are being under represented and are lacking quality legal help from lawyers who were viewed as being more successful than private lawyers.

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