More than one in three people have little confidence that they could achieve a fair outcome when faced with a legal problem, according to the lawyers’ main regulator which reckons that as many as 3.6 million people every year have unresolved legal problems. The report by the Legal Services Board (LSB) reveals that the basic legal needs of many are not being met with the UK ranking just 79th internationally in terms of the accessibility and affordability of its justice system.
The study, which is published on the regulator’s 1oth anniversary, highlighted the impact of the 2013 legal aid cuts introduced under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. The LSB stated: ‘Reductions in the scale and scope of legal aid, pressure on third sector advice agencies, and a rise in litigants-in-person, are among the reasons why nearly nine in ten people agree that “law is a game in which the skilful and resourceful are more likely to get what they want” .’ You can read the report here.
The Legal Services Board argued that the debate over the publicly-funded legal system ‘sometimes masks’ the fact that there were significant access issues for population groups and areas of law that would be ‘unlikely ever to be within the scope of even the most generously funded legal aid scheme’. ‘Although affordability is an insurmountable obstacle for many people, the barriers to access go beyond cost, embracing issues of legal capability and service design,’ it said.
‘While legal services are out of reach for large parts of society, the same population groups – BAME communities, people with disabilities, younger people, those on lower incomes and people with a low level of education – frequently appear in our data as worse off,’ the LSB continued; adding that it was true of their access to legal services, quality of experience when doing so and how fair they perceive the outcome of their issue to be.
The report continued: ’Further, these groups are more likely to experience serious legal issues that add to the existing problems they face. Often this reinforces a cycle of disadvantage that contributes to widening social inequalities. Ultimately, a legal system that serves some groups of people less well than others will struggle to command the public confidence central to the rule of law.’
The LSB also highlighted the ‘unfairness present in the profession itself’ particularly in recruitment, retention and progression. It flagged as a barrier preferences by employers for ‘elite educational institutions’ and identified ‘working practices and cultures that exclude, unfounded perceptions of “hierarchy” between different types of legal professional, and “homophily” (a tendency to prefer people similar to ourselves)’.
‘We must seize this moment, and with a clear strategy, good leadership and collective effort, we can build a market that the delivers fairer outcomes, stronger confidence and better services for society,’ commented LSB chair Dr Helen Phillips. ‘Success will also mean a sector that better reflects the communities it serves.’