Chakrabarti: “Cuts to legal aid breach human rights”

Shami Chakrabarti. Pic: Walnut Whippet

Shami Chakrabarti. Pic: Walnut Whippet

Cut to the legal aid budget threatened human rights, Shami Chakrabati, Director of Liberty, said at Goldsmiths College this week.

 Under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act civil law cases can no longer be funded by legal aid, which came in to force in April 2013.

Legal experts report that legislative changes will reduce those who can apply for legal aid by 75%.

During the seminar Chakrabarti said: “Cuts to legal aid mean vulnerable people can’t get access to justice in court. People might lose their kids, families might get spilt up due to deportation and people who might need redress against the police or prison authority can’t get justice. These are all people who are in the process of losing their right to legal aid. This is incredibly serious.”

Claimants can no longer apply for legal aid in cases concerning personal injury, clinical negligence, employment, education or debt.

Cases that will continue to be funded by legal aid are family law involving domestic violence, mental health and housing matters.

Chakrabarti said: “The policies that are coming out of the Ministry of Justice on legal aid are astonishing. We are going to have people not getting free representation in criminal trails if they earn more than £35,000. Instead, they will have to pay up front.”

“Whole areas of work will be excluded from legal aid. The Lord Chancellor,  Chris Grayling is saying that prisoner should not have access to legal aid”, she added.

On June 4, many barristers across the UK also stood in protest against cuts to legal aid outside courts and the Bar Council fears that such a move could threaten the legal system.

The charity organisation Shelter and Mind has also been campaigning against the new legal aid guidelines, claiming that the mental ill and low income earners will be ostracised from seeking justice.

In times of austerity, the Coalition Government intends to cut legal aid spending in civil law cases by £350 million, whilst making cuts of up to £220 million to criminal law. The Ministry of Justice confirmed to the BBC that legal aid is an “essential part of the justice system, but people can never lose sight of the fact that it is paid for by the tax payers and resources are not limitless”.

At Goldsmiths College Chakrabarti discussed how legal aid was meant to be a “leveller that protected the vulnerable from the powerful”.

In her opinion, legal aid cuts were an “extraordinary assault on the rule of law.” She believed that such a move by political power has breached individual human rights of equality, dignity and fairness, the very foundations that law and democracy has been built up on.

“Without access to advice and representation, everything that I’m talking about [human rights] is a joke,” said Chakrabarti.

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