At Duncan Lewis we are committed to the provision of social welfare law advice through legal aid. Under the popular leadership of its CEO, the firm now employs many qualified Solicitors and caseworkers. We also have a first class trainee development programme where currently trainee Solicitors work under a training contract.
Legal Aid History
The first state funding for legal representation was probably the 1903 Poor Prisoners Defence Act. This enabled legal representation to be provided in murder cases and other serious crimes. Prior to this, prisoners would rely on pro bono representation unless they were able to afford a lawyer.
The modern system of civil legal aid was created by the Legal Advice and Assistance Act1949. It followed the recommendations of the Rushcliffe committee which reported to Parliament in May 1945. It recommended that lawyers in private practice should be paid to undertake cases on behalf of people of “small or moderate means”. The system began to operate in 1950. At its inception, 80% of the population were eligible.
Legal Aid Today
The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 came into effect on1st April 2013. It has caused the deepest cuts to the legal aid scheme since it began. The £2.2 billion legal aid bill has been reduced by £350 million. The consequence of this is that legal aid has stopped being available in many areas of law.
Legal Aid is no longer available for employment law cases, except for cases which involve a contravention of the Equality Act 2010 or cases in connection with the exploitation of an individual who is a victim of trafficking in human beings.
Legal Aid is no longer available for welfare benefit cases except for appeals to the Upper Tribunal or higher courts.
The majority of non – asylum immigration work is no longer available except for those in immigration detention or cases involving torture or claims under the Refugee convention.
Legal Aid is available in housing where there is homelessness, possession proceedings and for anti social behaviour cases in the county court. It is only available for housing disrepair where there is a serious risk of harm
Legal Aid is no longer available for most family cases, including cases where couples are divorcing and sorting out living arrangements for their children, unless there is proven domestic violence. LASPO makes domestic violence a precondition for public funding for anyone who needs advice in private family law. Legal aid remains for children abuse, child abduction as well as forced marriage cases.
There is no legal aid for debt other than where there is a risk to the home.
In 2009 only 36% of the population were eligible for legal aid- well below the 80% eligible at the inception of the scheme.
Pro Bono Work
We are extremely concerned that the cuts to legal aid will hurt the most vulnerable. We continue to look at Pro Bono programmes that can be developed to increase access to our specialist legal advice and enable us to undertake work where legal aid is not available. We deliver free social welfare law at a drop in session, every Tuesday at our Dalston office between 5.30pm – 7.30pm. During these sessions, you are guaranteed to receive specialist legal advice from someone who will be advising in an area of their particular expertise.
Erol Izzet, Chairman of DL’s Pro Bono Committee is also a contributor to FREE LAW DIRECT which is a Pro bono programme that provides free access to specialist legal advice over the internet to advice agencies and not-for-profit organisations.