LSB highlights concerns over impact of legal aid cuts
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The Legal Services Board (LSB) has stepped tentatively into the debate around legal aid to highlight concern about the number of people now facing their legal problems without advice or support.
The top regulator for legal services in England and Wales has responded to the government’s review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act to draw attention to the large number of people going without a lawyer because they cannot afford the fees, but are not poor enough to qualify for public funding.
As reported by Legal Futures, in recent months the Law Society, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives have all called on the LSB to take a position on legal aid, but the regulator has insisted that it is “not in a position to understand or comment on the trade-offs involved in allocating tax revenues amongst many different possible areas of spend”.
The LSB expressed concern that people who qualify for legal aid are more likely to come from Pakistani, black African and mixed-ethnic backgrounds. It also emphasised the consequences of legal aid cuts for vulnerable people, stating: “Affordability of legal services is a key concern for people with mental health problems and their carers and consumers with learning disabilities. Changes in legal aid could therefore have a particular impact for such vulnerable consumers.”
Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the LSB, said: “Our research shows that, in recent years, a growing proportion of individuals are handling their legal problems alone and that a declining proportion are seeking advice. Actual or perceived costs have come to the fore as a key factor in determining what action people take when faced with a legal problem.
“We think it is important to look at what has happened to consumers who are no longer able to access legal aid following the reforms.
“Research suggests that changes in legal aid may have disproportionately affected certain groups of people such as particular ethnic groups and those from the C2DE social groups.
“We are also concerned about whether the reforms may have had knock-on effects elsewhere in the justice system and also more broadly in other areas of public spending such as health.”