Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When Spending Cuts Impede Basic Human Rights

The United Kingdom's Supreme Court President David Neuberger denounced the government’s latest attack on the judiciary. The U.K. government’s budget announced today will cut back legal aid, arguably a threat to a basic human right; access to justice.

The budget cut will decrease funding to legal aid by 40 percent, and according to the Independent the estimated cut of 270 million pounds will ultimately affect over 585, 000 individuals. The cuts presented today, is in addition to the cuts which have already come into effect. The U.K. government is under the impression the gap in legal aid will be filled by the not-for-profit community or by some other means.

However, the legal cuts which will come into effect in April 2013 will put a toll on the 2,000 firms and 300 charities which rely on legal aid. Of the mentioned firms, a majority focus on family law and housing cases.  The underlining goal, some would argue, of the cuts is to reduce the “aid” given to lawyers. Lawyers, whom some would mention are servants of the public providing legal advice to those persons often in the neglected sectors of society. A study conducted by the Legal Action Group (LAG) found that 82 percent of those surveyed “believed that free advice on common civil legal problems should be available to everyone” (LAG 2010). The study also found that respondents from all social classes seek accessible advice on employment law, given the slow economic turn. Surprisingly the findings in the survey suggest that the gap in debt advice should be filled by the financial services industry to replace the reductions from legal aid.

Of the growing issues; the avoidable delays in litigation would cost the government more in the long run given the suggested budget cuts. Lord Neuberger, states the government’s budget is in violation of the access to justice for all individuals. With the removal of lawyers on the front lines, many of the concerns of ordinary citizens would not have due process. Although the U.K. government has to make difficult choices to compensate for the economic downturn in the United Kingdom, should such difficulties hinder the access to justice?

In terms of democratic society, how important is that all citizens have reasonable access to due legal process? Should the ability to afford legal representation be considered a reasonable limitation on due legal process? 

Mansharn Toor, Foundation for Democratic Advancement Researcher with a background in International Relations.

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