Legal aid cuts leave England and Wales justice system 'in crisis', report warns

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Access to legal aid should be significantly expanded amid concerns people are being denied access to justice, a report commissioned by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership has said.

The Bach Commission - a panel of legal experts chaired by Labour former justice minister Lord Bach - said the justice system in England and Wales is "in crisis" as a result of Government cuts to legal aid.

In its final report, it called for the creation of a new legally enforceable "right to justice", guaranteeing people "reasonable legal assistance" without incurring costs they cannot afford.

Calling for a "significantly simpler and more generous" legal aid scheme, the commission said the Government's cuts had gone much further than originally envisaged.

When the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Prosecution of Offenders Act was passed in 2012 it had been expected to save £450 million a year in real terms, but last year spending was down £950 million on 2010.

"The commission has found that the justice system is in crisis," the report said.

"Most immediately, people are being denied access to justice because the scope of legal aid has been dramatically reduced and eligibility requirements made excessively stringent."

A Crown Court sign
(Gareth Fuller/PA)

Among the detailed recommendations, it said anyone who receives a means-tested benefit should automatically qualify for legal aid and it called for the creation of a new independent justice commission to monitor and enforce the right to justice.

Lord Bach said: "No person should be denied justice simply because they cannot afford it.

"We need a new Act which defends and extends the right to justice, and we need a new body tasked with implementing it."

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said Labour would now bring forward detailed plans setting out how it would take forward the commission's recommendations in government.

"The Conservative Government should now stop dragging its feet and get on with publishing its own delayed review into its legal aid changes," he said.

"There is much in Lord Bach's report that the Government could implement ahead of the next election if it is serious about restoring access to justice."

The Ministry of Justice said it would consider the commission's recommendations once it had seen the report.

"Maintaining access to justice remains absolutely vital and continues to be at the heart of our reforms," a spokesman said.