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Access to Justice and Public Legal Education.

About Justice Week

Justice Week 2020 runs from Monday 24th to Friday 28th February. The aim of Justice week 2020 is to improve access to justice by boosting the profile of justice and the rule of law, placing them at the centre stage of public and political debate.

Justice and the rule of law are facing major threat, from cuts to spending to attacks on the judiciary, all of which undermines our democracy.

Why is there an Access to Justice problem?

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) was introduced to ‘tackle’ the increasing pressure on the Legal Aid budget and was directly in response to the banking crisis that prompted radical cost-saving initiatives to reduce the national deficit. Legal aid was scrapped from areas of law including family, employment, clinical negligence, welfare, housing and debt. The act also lowered the means test and stopped automatic eligibility for those in receipt of means-tested benefits.

Legal Aid has always been regarded as central in providing access to justice by ensuring equality before the law (in 2019 Legal Aid celebrated its 70th anniversary). However, since LASPO, spending on Legal Aid has reduced dramatically. In 2010, the annual spending on Legal Aid was £2.2bn. The government hoped that the Act would reduce legal aid spending by £350m per year however, figures published by the Government in 2017/18 revealed that they have exceeded their target, and the annual spend was £1.6bn – £950m lower in real terms than it was in 2010.

For the government it has therefore, financially, been a huge success, but it is widely accepted amongst political and legal commentators that the impact on society, the court system and justice has been ruinous. The people solicitors turn away reappear in other public services, shifting the burden of cost onto the courts, NHS and social care.

The Impact of LASPO

  • Judicial Decisions: the inability to pay for expert/specialist evidence without legal aid has led to courts making decisions based on insufficient information and possible miscarriages of justice.
  • Advice deserts: lack of solicitors and barristers working in areas of law that are no longer funded by Legal Aid.
  • Closure of Law Centres: people adrift in the justice system have nowhere to go to get advice and representation. A quarter of Law Centres have closed since the mid-1980’s.
  • Family Courts: are inundated with unrepresented defendants; about 80% involve at least one side being unrepresented.
  • Rise in Litigants in Person which:
    • slows down the court process – judiciary (and court staff) having to explain processes and the law
    • causes additional distress to those having to represent themselves with no legal knowledge
    • has led to unqualified McKenzie Friends stepping in to fill the gap that lawyers have left behind and charging clients at ‘lower’ rates. 


Public Legal Education

Public Legal Education (PLE) is one area that has the potential to increase access to justice. Many people do not know their rights and have difficulties accessing legal services because they can’t afford to pay.

The benefits of PLE are that it will help the public to:

  • understand their legal rights and responsibilities they will know when they have a legal problem and need to seek the help of a solicitor
  • understand every day legal issues relating to problems at work and moving home
  • have the knowledge, confidence and skills they need to deal with legal issues and get access to justice
  • be involved in shaping decisions that affect them, including making good decisions when something happens in their life 


PLE Initiatives

Law firms are encouraged by their governing body (the Law Society) to build PLE into their pro-bono and CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy. Examples of PLE initiatives include:

  • Mentoring programmes – for example supporting a Women’s Charity by educating them on issues such as their right to compensation arising from domestic abuse or immigration appeals process.
  • Visiting schools to run educational and creative workshops about legal concepts and the story of the English legal system
  • Visits to youth clubs, community groups and prisons
  • Producing leaflets for the public about legal issues
  • Publishing information and guides on company websites


PLE and SHU Law

At SHU Law, we regularly post information on our website that is aimed at informing people of their rights in relation to a variety of legal topics. We also share these articles via our social media channels, with a view to reaching as many people as possible. Topics include commonly asked questions in relation to the employment rights of individuals; compensation for sexual abuse survivors; an employer’s duty of care towards those suffering mental health problems; what to expect at an Inquest; navigating the small claims process and terminating a commercial contract.

On the 26th February, to mark Justice Week 2020, we are hosting an Employment Law Interactive Seminar that aims to answer key questions asked by those entering the world of work. This is open to members of the public as well as students.

If you have got any legal topics that you’d like to see covered on our website, please get in touch at info@shulaw.co.uk or tweet us @SHULawLtd

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