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Did you watch this week's BBC panorama, DIY Justice? This programme highlighted the extent to which cuts to legal aid cuts have impacted upon everyday people. Individuals are now finding themselves having to go to court for issues such as child contact issues, when prior to the 2013 reforms they would have had the support of either a solicitor or a barrister. Sir Alan Moses, a former Court of Appeal Judge, condemned the cuts to legal aid during the programme. He argued “there should be equality under the law… a person should have the ability to argue their case irrespective of their means.” However, there was a suggestion that Legal Aid Funding had gone too far, that the government was simply ‘bankrolling’ child access disputes and lining the pockets of lawyers. This question was posed to former Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke who was instrumental in the introduction of the reforms. Mr Clarke argued that the limits were necessary. In particular, when asked about those reforms directly effecting sufferers of domestic violence, Mr Clarke argued that the Legal Aid rules are there to protect ‘vulnerable’ people, i.e. those who have suffered domestic violence within the last two years. Mr Clarke argued that domestic abuse should not and cannot be used when abuse is nothing to do with the argument at court. This was somewhat difficult to believe when watching a domestic violence sufferer, outside the two year time frame, be too distressed and scared to confront her abuser alone in court. Judge Crichton argued it is shocking that a woman should be put in the position where she should have to cross examine her abuser. Indeed, he further added that the court room is a very frightening place for a member of the public. DIY justice clearly highlighted the reality of the legal aid cuts. Access to justice is fundamental to a fair justice system, without this we leave ourselves open and vulnerable to miscarriages of justice, which now occur on a daily basis. We can only continue to campaign and hope that in future, sooner rather than later, serious consideration is given to the Legal Aid system and access to justice for ordinary members of the public. Please remember, we are here to help. At Ramsdens we have a team of family lawyers with great expertise across the family law field. Contact our team on 08000 147720, email or text LAW to 67777 to arrange a free thirty minute consultation in any of our ten offices across West Yorkshire.
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