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Legal aid cuts put “civilised society” at risk

The country’s highest judge believes access to justice is “of the essence in a civilised society”.

Lord Neuberger made his latest criticism of the Government’s £400m legal aid cuts at a lecture in London this week.

Changes in civil legal aid, which came in to effect last month, mean divorce, employment, family issues, clinical negligence and housing cases are no longer eligible for public funding.

The Government hopes the move will slash the reported annual £2 billion legal aid but Lord Neuberger thinks “disadvantaged” people may be forced to represent themselves in court.

He said: “There are plenty of claims which are small and important to the citizen concerned, and there are even quite a few claims which are small but important to society.

“In a sense, every genuine claim is important, because every citizen should be able to bring his or her case to court, and without legal aid many people are prevented from doing so, or seriously disadvantaged when they do so.

“I appreciate that pressures on government finances are very great, but access to justice is of the essence in a civilised society.”

However, Lord Neuberger has called upon lawyers to do more to adapt to the changes.

He said: “I appreciate that many may feel that the irreducible minimum is fast approaching or has even been reached, but, rather than talking about the end of the bar, barristers and other advocates should be working out how to ensure it survives.

“Of all professions, advocates should be able to adapt to realities, and to live through the present vicissitudes, so that, when the financial situation improves, advocates will be able to say, like Abbe Sieyes, when asked what he had done during the French Revolution, “J’ai vécu”, I survived.”

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