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Austerity Justice looks at how the civil legal safety net was established and why it is now under threat, due to a combination of austerity policies and the casual indifference of a few powerful politicians to the state's responsibility to provide a civil justice system that guarantees equality before the law regardless of means.
Over the last 40 years, the civil legal aid system provided by solicitors and barristers developed in parallel with the expansion of not for profit advice centres such as Citizens Advice Bureaux. These services, though not originally conceived as such, evolved into an important arm of the welfare state.
They ensure effective redress for people facing the everyday problems that a crisis in their lives such as a divorce, long-term disability or losing a job can throw at them. The austerity measures of the current coalition government mean that from next year this will become a much reduced service.
Access to justice policy might be at its lowest ebb, but the campaign against the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012 could have sown the seeds of recovery. The debate over the Act led to a tipping point between members of the coalition government.
Some ministers wanted a once-and-for-all redesign, closing off any chance that the legal aid system could expand again to meet the civil legal needs of the public. lndividual Liberal Democrat and Conservative parliamentarians, the Labour Opposition, and the weight of informed non-party political opinion, represented by crossbenchers in the Lords, were opposed to this.
Key concessions were won including a section in the LASPO Act which allows amendments to the scope of legal aid to be made in the future.