If someone came up to you and mentioned the term LASPO to you, you would likely have no idea what they are talking about because it is safe to assume you have likely never been involved in a legal situation where it has been mentioned. So LASPO stands for the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. When LASPO came out its four main aims were to:
The coalition government wanted to try save money in any way possible and decided that by taking funding from vital areas the law that would achieve the desired goal. It is easy to argue that taking money from legal aid would have helped with this money saving issue as at the time of this Act as the budget for legal aid was around £2.6 billion at the time, but what was not thought about is that that money was not just used for by the public for court cases, but it was also used for establishments such as the Citizens Advice Bureaux and other pro bono law firms.
Legal aid was introduced in the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 as a way to give people with lower means access to free legal aid and advice. Legal aid meant that those people could now afford legal representation and wouldn’t be afraid to procced with legal action because they couldn’t afford the aftereffects of going to court or even seeing someone for advice on what they should or shouldn’t do. But because of LASPO and the standards it set out for someone to qualify for legal aid the numbers of people eligible for legal aid dropped to only 25%, whereas in 1998 that figure was around 52%. That meant that fewer members of the public would use the legal system because they just couldn’t afford it or if they did it is very likely they would go to court unrepresented, which would likely end poorly for them because evidence could be entered wrongly, cross examination could be done poorly and besides those two many other things could go wrong for them. In a study by Dr James Organ and Dr Jennifer Sigafoos they showed that because of LASPO over 64% of cases that went to trial ended up being self-represented cases, which was a significant climb from the 42% of case that where unrepresented in 2012. The Bar Council also found out that because of the increase in self representation that cases are taking significantly longer than a case with representation which would just push up costs for those people self-representing.
Now the impact of LASPO was likely make greater because of the economic crash that occurred in 2008. That crash happened because an investment bank called Lehman Brothers collapsed and had repercussions around the world. That collapsed the stock market that meant in the UK banks like RBS and Lloyds had to be rescued by taxpayers’ money. The effects from the initial crash were felt for around 5 years in the UK. In 2011 the squeeze on household spending went up by 5% and more businesses collapsed because they weren’t earning what was needed to stay afloat. And by 2012 the UK was still in trouble even after the jump in the economy because of the Olympics; it just wasn’t enough to bring us out of that crisis. It wasn’t until 2013 when some form of steady growth appeared. From the information we can see why the government was so desperate to get money back: so they could make themselves seem financially stable enough they decided they had to sacrifice a lot of the money for legal aid which means those people who now because of the crash can’t afford much can’t even afford something as simple as legal advice.
We could see something very similar happening with the potential economic crash right now – we could see more people not using legal advice or even bringing a claim themselves because they simply can’t afford it and food, heating and clothing is more important them then paying for a legal advocate.
One could hope that if this economic crash happens that more firms may do pro bono cases because then that would mean those people who can’t afford it can now go to them and get the needed legal advice.
By Sarah Hawkins – Sheffield Hallam University Law Student