Solicitors in the North East will join a nationwide boycott that could see criminal courts grind to a halt.
Lawyers in the region have backed an unprecedented protest over the government’s cut to legal aid, which comes into force today.
They said a planned 8.75% cut to the publicly funded criminal legal aid budget was “uneconomic” and “unsustainable”.
Mass meetings of solicitors and barristers who specialise in criminal work were originally held in Liverpool but later also in Newcastle, London, Manchester, Leeds, and other cities.
All agreed not to take on any legal aid cases as of today, but will continue to do duty work to avoid breaching their contract.
Legal aid is the help given to people that may not otherwise afford their own lawyers and is a big source of income for many firms.
Solicitors in the Northumbria area, which includes, Newcastle, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead, have backed the nationwide action after they held a meeting at Northumbria University on Monday night.
Lewis Pearson, deputy vice-president of the Newcastle Law Society and partner at Pearson Caulfield solicitors, in Newcastle, said the boycott was a last-ditch effort to save legal aid.
The number of claimants getting legal aid to help with welfare benefits has plunged from 88,380 in 2012-13 to just 149 in 2013-14 due to coalition cuts. In addition, not one single application for exceptional case funding has been granted. The Lib Dems have expressed concern about the effect of their own legal aid cuts on children, but not about the effects on sick and disabled claimants.
Legal aid has been abolished for almost all welfare benefits issues, including appeals to first-tier tribunals, but is still available for appeals to the upper tribunal.
In addition, in theory, exceptional case funding is available where a claimants human rights or European Union rights would be breached if they did not get funding to bring their case. However, although 11 applications were made for exceptional case funding in 2013-14, every single one was refused.
The Lib Dem family justice minister has now called for a review of legal aid cuts that affect children, according to the Guardian, but no minister has shown similar concern about the effect of legal aid cuts on sick and disabled claimants.
Legal aid for other areas of law likely to affect sick and disabled claimants has also been almost wiped out in the same period. This includes debt, which has fallen from 81,993 funded cases to 2,584 and employment, which has fallen from 16,157 to 32.
Source – Benefits & Work, 26 Sept 2014
Nine out of ten Citizens Advice Bureaux (92 per cent) are finding it difficult to refer people to the specialist legal advice they need since cuts to legal aid came into effect last year, the charity has found, leading to benefits appeals failing because of lack of written submissions and supporting evidence.
Citizens Advice is reporting it is now extremely hard to get legal aid around issues such as housing, relationship breakdown or employment disputes. Where limited provision of legal aid remains people have to meet very stringent criteria. The length of time it takes to get legal aid means people’s situations often become far worse than they would have had there been earlier intervention.
In some cases legal aid is now simply not available, such as to help with getting employers to pay outstanding wages or challenging unfair benefit decisions.
Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy will today share this evidence with the Justice Select Committee inquiry into the impact of changes to civil legal aid. Guy will call for a Government strategy on funding of advice, to ensure that people can access the right level of advice, at the right time, in the right way for them.
Citizens Advice also reveals a 62 per cent increase in people seeking online advice about help with legal costs.
“Cuts to legal aid have created an advice gap, stranding people with nowhere to turn. At precisely the time when people’s need for specialist advice on issues such as housing and welfare increased, provision for this support has been slashed.
“Modern life presents increasingly complex problems and people need help to understand, adjust to, and in many cases challenge decisions affecting their income, housing and work status.
“In a rapidly changing world, where people’s expectations of services are rising, accessing the right advice at the right time will be critical to help people solve problems and understand what government changes mean for them.”
In the year before changes introduced under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came into effect Citizens Advice Bureaux provided specialist advice in approximately 136,000 cases to help people struggling with legal problems. Changes introduced under LASPO have withdrawn support for approximately 120,000 of these cases.
A CAB in the North West reported:
“Benefits appeals are failing as clients are unable to pay for supportive medical evidence and/or are attending on their own without submissions. There have been problems with referring clients to specialist advice to challenge decisions on benefit entitlement and overpayment issues, including assembling specialist medical evidence to support ESA and DLA/PIP claims and preparing cases for appeal.”
Source – Benefits & Work, 08 July 2014
Latest legal aid figures. Social welfare – it’s a wipe out!
by nickd (Mylegal), ilegal team
It’s a wipe out!
The Ministry of Justice has today released the latest legal aid statistics. Remember these cuts were once promoted by the Coalition as one of their ‘top achievements’. I can’t help but feel today’s release couldn’t have been timed any better, the breaking news over the Brooks aquittal and Coulson conviction provides the MOJ with the ideal opportunity to slip these statistics out in silence – very much as per their usual transparency agenda….
I’m sure these will be analysed in detail over the weeks to come but for now I just want to draw your attention to the areas of social welfare law once well served by legal aid which helped advice agencies & law centres assist thousands of vulnerable individuals battle for their benefits – no easy task when…
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Legal aid cuts have led to an alarming number of people having to represent themselves in family courts in the North East.
The proportion of unrepresented North East parents attending court to contest custody of their children and other family matters has leapt from 34% to 53% of litigants since the removal of legal aid from family lawyers in April 2013.
Between April and December 2012, 4,698 people represented themselves at North East courts for child-related proceedings.
In the same nine-month period for 2013, the figure jumped to 7,562. This is a year-on-year rise of 61%; the highest in England and already more than the previous year’s total of 6,502.
Publication of the Ministry of Justice figures, secured via a Freedom of Information request, has sparked a call among some of the region’s lawyers to keep warring parents away from the courts.
Seven law firms in Newcastle currently offer a fixed-fee service which offers couples a way of resolving disputes without the need to go to court.
Sue McArthur, a lawyer at Newcastle-based firm McKeag and Co, said: “The massive increase in people representing themselves is leading to huge delays at court as judges struggle to help people representing themselves understand the proceedings and what is happening.
“Often people find that decisions go against them because they’ve not been able to refer the judge to the relevant legal points of their case. They can end up getting too emotional or angry and not presenting their case in the best possible way.
“To respond to this crisis in representation the legal industry is having to completely rethink how best to serve clients.”
Marc Lopatin, founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com said: “The answer is not putting lawyers back in the courtroom at the public’s expense. Instead, the government should be doing all it can to encourage lawyers and mediators to work in tandem. This is the only way to make available the support parents need at a price most can afford.”
But The Law Society – which represents solicitors in the UK – says removing solicitors from the process will have a knock-on effect on children whose parents are fighting in court.
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: “The legislation, which came into force last April, could easily cost more than it is intended to save.
“As well as all the knock-on costs to the tax payer and the social consequences of severely limiting access to legal aid, it is the couples fighting in court and their children who will be the worst hit.
“Removing solicitors from the process and cutting access to justice for people on low incomes is a devastating false economy.
“As we have also outlined to the Justice Select Committee, the reality is that solicitors steer separating couples away from the courts and towards alternatives such as mediation.
“The Law Society has previously suggested alternative savings that would make a bigger contribution to reducing the deficit by making the civil justice system more efficient, but the Government chose to ignore this.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 07 June 2014
A few weeks ago the Conservatives and their Tory Democrat accomplices abolished legal aid. This has the effect of making legal action by the poor prohibitively expensive, so that they are effectively denied justice due to the sheer cost involved. This has naturally caused indignation and protests, not least from the legal profession itself. In Bristol the lawyers went on a one-day strike against its abolition.
this attempt by the government to prevent the poor suing the rich also has a parallel in the legal restrictions and double standards the Tsarist government in pre-Revolutionary Russia used to oppress the workers in its attempt to protect and promote the country’s capitalist development. Lionel Kochan in his Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) describes this legal double standard. Workers, who left their job before their contract was due to expire, were liable to criminal prosecution. However, if they wished to sue their…
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Legal aid cuts will stop people in Wearside from getting justice, claims a Sunderland solicitor.
Michael Robinson has hit out at a Government shake-up to cut the £2billion budget of what it calls “one of the world’s most expensive legal systems”, by slashing fees paid to barristers and lawyers.
Critics say the plans, due to be phased in from next month, will drive many out of the profession and leave defendants without expert lawyers to argue their cases.
Earlier this month, solicitors boycotted Sunderland Magistrates’ Court in protest.
Mr Robinson said: “People who don’t qualify for legal aid will have to either plead guilty to save money, or fund their own defence.
“If acquitted, those who fund their own defence will not be fully remunerated. Why should anyone have to pay to establish their innocence?
Legal aid spend, if it is too high, is so because of legislation, sentencing policy, policing policy and strategy. The Government blames lawyers, suggesting legal aid funds fat-cat lifestyles, masking its true intent. They don’t want people to challenge the State. It wants people to take a pragmatic, financial view and plead guilty.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 22 March 2014
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A piece from RT.com by Tony Gosling, which pretty accurately sums up the current situation for many in “Great” Britain today.
Not satisfied with their seventh home, brace of sports cars and servants, the rich are paying Tory politicians, press and the City to grind the faces of Britain’s poor into the dirt.
Millions of hardworking families can no longer afford a social life, shoes for their children, to go swimming or to the cinema.
A depraved Sheriff of Nottingham is ruling Britain. While the superrich loan shark 0.001 percent are given the red carpet treatment to loot the family silver, Sheriff Cameron and his Bullingdon Club bullies are putting all the blame at the door of whom? The destitute and disabled.
Past recessions and the desire of businessmen to drive down wages and conditions have swelled the numbers of the unemployed in Britain to around 3 million. Since the post-World War II Labour Party ‘National Insurance’ and ‘Social Security’ laws, these jobless have always been given enough by the government to live on. But those days are over under this sheriff, the poor are being lashed.
Including government help with inflated housing costs, Britain has around 25 percent of the population dependent on various welfare payments. Cameron’s wheeze is an online ‘Universal Credit’ scheme to lump all these payments into one. After several hiccoughs and cost overruns the latest 140 million pounds (US$225 million) written off from this pilotless project just this week beggars belief. It could have provided a year of low paid public sector jobs for around 10,000 people languishing on the dole and saved the taxpayer a cool 300 million pounds altogether.
It has been left to the poorest in society, struggling after being stripped of their statutory legal aid, to challenge these attacks in the courts. Last month forced laborer Cait Reilly won a Supreme Court challenge and her slavery scheme was ruled unlawful. Now this week government abolition of ‘Independent Living Allowance’ for disabled people has also proved Sheriff Cameron and his poor-bashing henchman Iain Duncan-Smith have been breaking the law.
This week figures emerged too that a staggering 700,000 of Britain’s poorest unwaged, while denied work, have had their subsistence payments removed for not complying with a privatized scheme called the ‘Work Programme’, designed to bully them into low paid work.
Undercover recording back in 2012 revealed privatized employment staff being trained to regard the jobless as not deserving anything to live on at all. Job advisers were told by training staff to regard clients as ‘benefit scrounging scum’.
My own experience on this scheme verifies consistent bullying tactics are being used daily on the thousands of the weakest in society. The complaint system which I tried to use turned out to be a crooked sham, but the private company running my scheme, Seetec, still stands to be rewarded with approximately 15,000 pounds of taxpayers money for doing nothing to help me find work at all.
While on the program I witnessed one unwashed, educationally subnormal young man of about 25 arrive for his interview in clothes that looked as if they hadn’t been changed in weeks. Just before he sat down, his ‘job adviser’ yelled at him in front of the whole open plan office, “Back again are you? You said you would. Why haven’t you got a job yet?!”
The young man visibly shrank back from the chair as if he was preparing himself to receive a physical punch, his eyes were darting around as if for a safe place to run to, or perhaps someone he could trust.
The young woman who had stopped talking to me, my adviser, visibly cringed. Not saying anything she made it clear to me she didn’t approve of her colleague’s behavior – the cruelty was naked and inexcusable. She left the job shortly afterwards.
Before I left that day another client told me the police had been called to deal with a fight earlier, but as he was telling me the story I had to get up and move away. Another client started swinging his right arm back and forth, remonstrating about how he had been practicing throwing hand axes, grinding his teeth as he described what a mess they made of someone you didn’t like when lodged in their back.
On the way out that final day I got chatting in the lift to a 50-year-oldish woman who told me she had a degenerative nervous disease. Government contractors ‘Work Capability Assessment’ company, ATOS had certified her ‘fit for work’ so she had to struggle into Bristol City center three times a week to apply for jobs she knew – in competition with able bodied young people and migrants – she could never get.
Since Britain has enjoyed such high living standards and maintains its position as one of the wealthiest handful of countries in the world, we are feeling the ‘pinch’. The sense of injustice and moral outrage has become palpable on the BBC TV’s weekly ‘Question Time’ which nowadays breaks out into angry exchanges despite the producers largely keeping the socialist left off the panels.
It’s a policy designed to start a second civil war, threatening ordinary people with starvation, prison or eviction seems to be all Britain’s coalition government can think of to ‘motivate’ the populace.
Just as Switzerland’s wicked Gessler had his William Tell and France’s Villefort family had their Count of Monte Cristo, quietly Britons are beginning to see Robin Hood’s Merry Men coming together.
The market’s nightmare vision is for a Big Brother technocrat and authoritarian regime. But what Britain and the rest of the NATO zone really needs is a reasserting of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, a united front for an updated set of universal social standards with no sinister strings attached.
Switzerland and Cyprus are now proposing one excellent solution, the basic income, but go one stage further and we can guarantee citizens for free what that basic income is supposed to provide.
As its first priority the state should abolish the threat of eviction, instead making the dignity and subsistence the order of the day. Water, food, healthcare, energy and a rent-free roof over every head. Above and beyond that people will have plenty of time to work and better themselves, with taxes kicking in as families pursue more luxurious lifestyles.
A nationalized banking system that goes hand in hand with good government would force the moneychangers out of the temple, to serve the people once more. We’d have no more of their weasel words: ‘There’s not enough money for that!”
Original article – http://rt.com/op-edge/britain-poor-denied-work-425/