Richard Moorhead is a wise and reflective observer of the access to justice world, focusing on the UK.
His latest blog post (well worth reading in full) brings both informtion and perspective on the very depressing news out of the UK (among other things, near abolition of legal aid for non-domestic violence family cases.)
Here are some key paras:
The legal aid reforms announced this week are widely (and rightly) proclaimed as a low water mark in legal aid history. Whilst the abolition of much of the social welfare law element of the scheme marches us back 20 years, the cuts to family legal aid return the scheme further still, to a time pre-Beveridge. Family legal aid was one of the mainstays of post-War legal aid: soon most of it will be gone. There is little to be said that has not already been said but I was struck at the recent International Legal Aid conference how many jurisdictions supported, through modest legal assistance and self-help schemes, the redirection of clients away from litigation. Our government is taking an altogether more brutal approach: withdrawing large elements of legal aid altogether.
The only pleasure that practitioners and others have been able to derive from the announcement is the expected demise of the Legal Services Commission. I understand but deprecate this. I also declare an interest, having worked with many of its employees on research projects for over 20 years since the formation of the shadow Legal Aid Board. The LSC has had its fair share of faults but also had significant successes. In World terms it was seen as a leader for its innovation not for the size of its budget. Moreover, it is likely to be short-sighted to celebrate a further diminution in independence in the administration of legal aid. The LSC failed because it overreached but also because the MoJ wanted more control over policy (perfectly properly on the whole, it just wasn’t very good at it (CLSPs anyone?)). The LSC resisted and paid the price. The basic administrative failings of the LSC (payment processing and the like) are not likely to be positively affected by abolition one iota.
There is warning here in the importance of supporting the national administrative structure even when it pushes for change faster than some would wish. Someone else might be happy to throw out the baby.