Debra Morris is Director of University of Liverpool’s Charity Law & Policy Unit
“The effect of legal aid cuts will be particularly profound for immigration advice providers and service users alike, tightening the noose around an already highly regulated, poorly funded and politically contentious area of social justice.
Helen Stalford, of Liverpool Law School and co-editor of the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, put together a special issue on ‘Delivering Family Justice in Late Modern Society in the wake of Legal Aid Reform’, following the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) earlier this year.
Without legal advice and representation
Two of the contributions to this special issue were written by Liverpool Law School members. The first, by Liverpool Law Clinic co-managers, Frances Meyler and Sarah Woodhouse, highlighted the impact of legal aid reforms on families in the context of immigration litigation.
Under LASPO, save in limited circumstances, legal aid is no longer available for the majority of private law disputes, including immigration proceedings. Large numbers of migrants and their family members are now without legal advice and representation.
The authors question whether the changes will in fact achieve their stated aim of delivering cost savings or whether the costs will simply be transferred to other parts of the state, particularly a tribunal system dealing with increased self-representing litigants.
This is happening at the same time as a number of welfare reforms come into play, placing additional pressure on family life by further reducing the public and private resources available to deal with them.
The second contribution, by Debra Morris and Warren Barr of the University’s Charity Law & Policy Unit, reflects on the significant (and, as yet, under-acknowledged) impact of the legal aid cuts on charities, particularly those who fulfil a vital advice and advocacy role for the socially and economically marginalised.
Other papers in the issue focus on the impact of the reforms on family law matters, including the potential impact of an increase in the number of self-represented parties on the work of the family court; the cost effectiveness of the reforms; alternative ways of delivering and receiving family and social welfare law advice and how these might serve to limit some of the damage caused by LASPO, as well as questions around public knowledge and awareness of the law.
These are difficult times, but the contributions suggest a number of potential routes to address the social injustice caused by such reforms.
Human rights arguments
One potentially strong legal route may to challenge the cuts using human rights arguments. However, the journal editors note that it is more the shared resilience and commitment to social justice of service providers and users alike, that will yield an inspiring level of ingenuity and resourcefulness. This will not come without some radical adjustments, not to mention a significant amount of personal sacrifice.
In the longer term, it is to be hoped that austerity may act as a trigger to stimulate the development of much more responsive, evidence-based, cost-effective policies rather than the wielding of blunt instruments.
This special issue of the Journal should make an important contribution to that process.
The articles appear in the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 2013, Volume 35, Issue 1