updated on 15 June 2018
Serving member of the justice select committee and former barrister Alex Chalk has urged his party to heed warning signs in the civil justice system and reinstate legal aid for early advice, as the government continues its review of legal aid.
In an article for Conservative Home, the Tory MP for Cheltenham said that while the controversial Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 introduced necessary reductions to the legal aid budget, the cuts have gone further than intended in impacting access to justice.
In a notable intervention that contradicts the government’s present position, Chalk argued that restoring legal aid for early advice would be both fair and cost effective in addressing relatively straightforward legal problems before they escalate and cost more in the long term. “For instance, disrepair issues can lead to health problems, which the NHS will have to pick up the tab for,” he said.
Chalk also said that means testing for legal aid eligibility is outdated, as even “modest savings” will disqualify a pensioner from accessing legal aid under the current system.
He wrote: “There is now a serious concern that, without some steps to restore a measure of access to justice, serious injustice will inevitably follow. It would be unacceptable if deserving individuals, with right on their side, found themselves the victim of rough justice (even perhaps street justice) because they were unable to get legal advice or settle their case in court. It goes against the kind of country we are.”