Legal this essay will evaluate whether Legal Aid does

Legal
Aid is merely known as being a “system of government funding for those who
cannot afford to pay for legal advice, assistance and representation.”1
The Legal Aid Act2 was
passed in 1949 with the aspiration that everyone would have equal access to the
justice system. There are different kinds of legal aid, and it can be of help
in many ways, whether it is “legal advice and assistance… civil legal aid and…criminal
legal aid.”3 For
example, you can get represented if you are being “arrested, charged or questioned
by police”, if you are experiencing family issues or if you are being
discriminated against.4
Although it was created to help those who are not able to afford legal
representation, it is very hard to become eligible for it, thus not necessarily
being accessible to everyone. Taking into account the three main strands of
Legal Aid, this essay will evaluate whether Legal Aid does offer justice for
every individual in society, and whether it is effective.

 

Legal
Aid was introduced by Atlee’s Labour government in 1949, who took under consideration
the findings from the Rushcliffe Report, where it was stated that “Legal Aid
should be available in all Courts… those who cannot afford to pay anything for
legal aid should receive this free of cost.”5
Thus, one of the main reasons why Legal Aid was introduced is to provide
everyone with the same opportunity of being able to be represented in court
just the same as those who are well-off and can easily hire any solicitor they
want to fight their case in court.

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By
applying for this aid, an individual can receive legal advice by a solicitor.
This is outlined by the Access to Justice Act 1999 s16.
Legal advice is usually given when you are at the police station, where “you
have the right to free independent legal advice from a duty solicitor.” This
however applies to everyone, regardless of the fact that one may not be
eligible for Legal Aid. If the individual being arrested cannot afford their
own solicitor and if they have “a contract with the Legal Aid Agency”, they can
ultimately be able to have their own solicitor and may contact them whenever.7
The solicitors can “give general advice, write letters or get a barrister’s opinion.”
This can also be called pro bono, since the lawyers are giving free advice.  Another service provided through Legal Aid is help
with civil issues such as “family, housing, discrimination”8
and so on. In addition, legal aid can also offer support when it comes to crime.
For example, “being arrested, charged or questioned by the police,”9
where, as mentioned before, those individuals can contact a solicitor and get
advice for free.

 

Legal
Aid has helped many individuals ever since it became law in 1949, with thousands
of hundred cases being tackled. For instance, the Stephen Lawrence case was
taken on a ‘legal aid basis’, and the case was a victory. This legal aid case “raised
searching questions about racism in Britain.”10
If legal aid did not exist, this case would therefore not have been taken into
consideration and would be left alone, with the murderers lurking around until
this present day.

 

 Despite the fact that the purpose of legal aid
is to make society more equal, it does have its defects and over the past few
years the usefulness of legal aid has slowly diminished. For instance, the
government cut their annual spending “on legal aid down from the 2009/2010 peak
of £2.2 billion to £1.6 billion in 2015/2016.”11
This resulted in “a number of areas of law” that are no longer “covered.”12For
example, “family law cases… as well as almost all cases involving social
welfare, housing, medical negligence”13
and so forth. The government cuts show us that the reason why legal aid was
created in the first place is not taken into account anymore. Legal aid was
supposed to include every case that an individual needed to be represented in.
However, in contemporary society it is very hard to be eligible for legal aid, since
you cannot be represented if your case involves most civil issues, such as
family matters. Therefore, Legal aid can be said not to be for everyone, as
many people are now left unrepresented.

 

In
addition, it is very hard to be permitted legal aid. The financial calculations
themselves are over-complicated. They firstly have to find out what your
monthly income is, and it if is “£2,657 or less, your solicitor will then check
what your disposable income is.”14
If after having paid all of your expenses and you are left with “over £315, you
will have to pay a monthly contribution if you’re getting Legal Representation.”15
If you do not work, then your “capital will be looked at,”16
whereby they will oversee your possessions. It is also not seen as fair that
even if one that has applied for legal aid and has won a case, “alternative
means of paying a lawyer’s fee”17
need to be found, “whether based on insurance or parceling out of the winner’s
award of damages.” It is therefore not just and fair when although they win a
case, they are left with nothing. Furthermore, it is not equal since this would
not happen to those that are part of the high spectrum of society (those who
are well-off).

1 Legal Aid Board, Legal Aid Handbook 1992(published in
1992, Sweet & Maxwell) 3

2 Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949

3 Legal Aid Board, Legal Aid Handbook 1992(published in
1992, Sweet & Maxwell) 3

4 The Law Society, ‘Legal Aid’ http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/for-the-public/paying-for-legal-services/legal-aid/
accessed 27 January 2018

5 Reginald Heber Smith, ‘Legal Aid
and Advice: The Rushcliffe Report as a Land-Mark’ page 446 (published by
American Bar Association) http://0-www.jstor.org.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/stable/pdf/25715955.pdf?refreqid=search%3A8fa857af204a0912dad3b9932fd2b99c
accessed 28 January 2018

6 Access to Justice Act 1999 s1

7 Help
with legal costs- legal aid, ‘free legal advice at the police station’, https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/wales/law-and-courts/legal-system/taking-legal-action/help-with-legal-costs-legal-aid/
accessed 27 January 2018

8Legal
aid, ‘cases where you can get legal aid’, http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/for-the-public/paying-for-legal-services/legal-aid/
accessed 27 January 2018

9
ibid.

10
Vikram Dodd and Sandra Laville, ‘Stephen Lawrence verdict: Dobson and Norris
guilty of racist murder’ https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/jan/03/stephen-lawrence-verdict-guilty-murder
accessed 27 January 2018

11 Sarah
Moore and Alex Newbury, Legal Aid in
Crisis (first published in 2017, Policy Press) 4

12
ibid

13 ibid

14
Help with costs- legal aid, ‘Legal aid if you have income’ https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/wales/law-and-courts/legal-system/taking-legal-action/help-with-legal-costs-legal-aid/
accessed 28 January 2018

15
ibid

16
Help with costs- legal aid, ‘Legal aid if you have capital’ https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/wales/law-and-courts/legal-system/taking-legal-action/help-with-legal-costs-legal-aid/
accessed 28 January 2018

17
Alastair Hudson, Towards a Just Society
(first published 1999, A Cassell imprint) 3