12th March 2015
JustRights welcomes a hard-hitting report by the Justice Committee that criticises cuts to legal aid.
The report is the culmination of a yearlong inquiry into the impact of cuts to civil legal aid introduced in April 2013. It finds that the cuts have ‘failed to meet their objectives’ and ‘harmed access to justice for some litigants’. The report particularly highlights the harm caused to children by the legal aid cuts.
In February, JustRights published as snap shot briefing outlining the impact of these, and other cuts, to legal aid on young people. Our briefing revealed that just three children had been granted ‘exceptional’ funding for cases removed from the reach of ordinary legal aid over a year. The Committee’s report concludes that mechanism for funding exceptional cases outside of the normal framework of the legal aid scheme is failing to provide a sufficient safety net.
The report backs up JustRights’ concerns that legal aid is simply “not reaching many of those eligible for it” and that Government has made insufficient efforts to “monitor whether vulnerable people are able to access legal assistance.”
The Committee heard evidence from a range of expert civil children’s lawyers and considered research published by the Children’s Commissioner in September 2014 (para 51):
“The legal aid changes did not distinguish between children and adults. We heard concerns from some witnesses that children were facing particular difficulties in accessing legal advice and representation. Coram Children’s Legal Centre told us that the legal aid changes had had a “profoundly negative impact on access to justice...on children’s access to justice in particular.” We heard from witnesses that immigration, family and education law presented particular problems. …In September 2014, research commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner concluded the legal aid changes are likely to have “negatively impacted” on children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
The Committee concludes that Ministry of Justice should review the impact of the cuts on children’s rights and consider in particular how trafficked and separated children are able to access legal assistance.
Co-chair, Laura Janes of JustRights said:
“JustRights welcomes this report’s findings on young people. There is now a groundswell of support for an urgent review to ensure that young people’s access to justice is protected. Last month, the Ministry of Justice admitted it has abandoned a review of access to justice for children promised by Simon Hughes in September 2014. That review should be reinstated with immediate effect. In the meantime, urgent practical interim steps should be taken to promote access to justice for young people to ensure that they do not lose out while a new government is elected. Excluding young people from the rule of law is unforgivable. If we want young people to respect the law, they should not be excluded from its protection. The ‘Make our Rights a Reality’ Manifesto sends out a clear message that young people want age appropriate access to justice now”.
For further information contact:
Laura Janes, Co-chair, JustRights
T: 07817 962 206
JustRights is a coalition of charities campaigning for fair access for children and young people to advice, advocacy and legal representation. Founded in 2009 by Children’s Rights Alliance for England, The Howard League for Penal Reform, Law Centres Network and Youth Access, it is now a coalition of 25 organisations.
Make Our Rights Reality is a manifesto and campaign that has been developed by hundreds of young people all over England who participated in working groups, focus groups, a national survey and a youth editorial board. The development of the manifesto has been co-ordinated by Youth Access on behalf of JustRights and made possible thanks to funding from The Baring Foundation and Youth Access.