Falconer regrets vilifying legal aid solicitors to curb expenditure

By Lenore Rice

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor from 2003 to 2007, has admitted his regret over the campaign to curtail the legal aid budget which led to widespread condemnation of legal aid lawyers as being “in some way a bad lot”. 

Speaking at a Right to Justice event Falconer admitted that his government’s efforts to curb legal aid spending resulted in greater suffering for those people for whom the lawyers were acting. He told the audience that legal aid solicitors had “been vilified by the political establishment for too long”.

Legal aid involves the provision of legal advice or proceedings using public funds. The availability of such a provision ensures that those in need of legal services, but who are unable to financially afford them, can still receive the assistance they require. It is particularly important in domestic abuse and other family law matters, and criminal law matters including interviews at the police station.

These public funds are of course provided by the government who, in an effort to reduce the legal aid bill, only succeeded in restricting the quality and availability of legal aid services for those in need. Cuts to legal aid in recent years have resulted in more and more people representing themselves, with the former head of family courts in England and Wales, Sir James Munby, warning that the lack of proper legal advice was risking the “quality of decisions and prejudicing cases.”

As Sir James attests, the situation is particularly bleak in family courts and in cases of domestic abuse, where the need for care and tact in handling proceedings is devastatingly outweighed by the need to keep costs down. Victim support is severely lacking, as are the provisions for vulnerable visitors to court, such as those required accommodating children who are required to give evidence in cases of domestic abuse.

For Falconer to admit to his and his Labour government’s failings in handling the establishment of limits on legal aid, which effectively vilified legal aid lawyers and engendered a deep mistrust of legal professionals as not having any motivation beyond the purely financial, is an encouraging move which will hopefully bring the importance of legal aid into the spotlight once again.

If you require legal advice from a solicitor in Northern Ireland, and are uncertain as to whether you are eligible to receive legal aid, contact us at our Belfast our Bangor office by clicking here.