A new report issued by LexisNexis identifies the locations of the millions of people without access to legal aid providers.
The report breaks down legal aid providers by field and location, identifying the places in the UK most affected by legal aid cuts over the past decades.
Legal aid deserts in Family Law leave over one million people without access to representation. For criminal law, the figure is over two million. Housing Law is the worst-affected area, with 12.45 million people are left without access to legal aid. In all three fields, at least 10% of the surveyed local authorities did not have any legal aid providers whatsoever.
Seven areas are particularly poorly affected across all fields – North Norfolk, Derbyshire Dales, the Isles of Scilly, Ribble Valley, East Cambridgeshire, West Devon, and Rutland.
In part this is due to the financial “unviability” of legal aid for providers. The new Housing Loss Prevention Advice Service, which last month replaced the previous duty scheme, attracted no compliant bids in 12 areas. Last year, barristers went on strike in protest against a criminal legal aid system that left many lawyers earning less than minimum wage. 60% of immigration legal aid providers have signed a letter stating that the provision is “unworkable” at current rates.
James Harper of LexisNexis said: “Providing people with access to legal representation, regardless of where they live or how much they earn, is fundamental to upholding the Rule of Law… millions of us are reliant on a legal aid system that is chronically underfunded and understaffed – and it has been getting noticeably worse for years.
“This challenge is exacerbated for people living in remote or rural areas, where legal aid providers are few and far between… we need to address the systemic challenges which means access to justice is often denied to people across the country, almost always at the darkest moment of their lives”.