July 21, 2019
Anyone who has picked up a paper in recent months will understand that our justice system is coming under enormous pressure. An article in last year’s Guardian talked about cuts to our legal aid system, which has been reduced by more than £1bn in five years. They go on to say that by “2019-20 the Ministry of Justice will have seen cuts to its overall budget of 40% the effect of these cuts means that an increasing number of defendants in both civil and criminal courts are appearing with neither advice nor representation. Research carried out by civil servants saw judges expressing concerns about defendants not understanding the significance of a guilty plea on their sentence. In family courts there are concerns about witnesses being questioned by the same person who has caused them harm and litigants appearing in person finding it difficult to present legal arguments and understand complex financial information.”
We are told there has been a reduction of £950m in the legal aid bill in 2016, compared with 2010. 2012’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) shows that the proportion of litigants with legal representation fell from 60% in 2012 to 33% in the first quarter of 2017. It is not uncommon for one party in a civil case to be represented by a lawyer while the other is not.
The huge IT failure experienced in January of this year, which delayed trials up and down the country, was just a symptom of a much wider malaise that has made it ever harder for people to obtain legal advice and, ultimately, to access justice. Between 2011 and 2018 the number of solicitor firms in England and Wales working on civil legal aid cases reduced by more than 30%, leaving areas of the country and millions of people with no provision at all, for some case types. Other routes to legal advice have become increasingly difficult to navigate, as numerous Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureau have been forced to close, following cuts to their funding. The number of not-for-profit organisations offering civil legal aid is less than half what it was in 2011.
Among widespread reports of court buildings falling into serious disrepair, more than 200 courts and tribunals have been closed entirely over the past decade, and the properties sold off. But attempts to modernise the justice system and reduce the number of cases being heard have not been entirely successful. The fees of up to £1,200 to bring an employment tribunal claim, introduced in 2013, helped to cut the number of claims being submitted by about 70 per cent, but the total has more than doubled since the fee regime was ruled unlawful in 2017, and is now approaching its pre-fee level again. The number of claims being resolved has not kept pace though, resulting in frustrating and costly delays for employees and employers alike.
Of course, all this makes legal expenses insurance more important than ever. While lauded by many insurers, the passage of the Civil Liability Act, at the end of last year, is just the latest example of access to justice being curtailed, especially for poorer and more vulnerable people. Whether the Act will do anything to resolve the (in fact, declining) problem of spurious and exaggerated claims or just move it on, remains to be seen, but nobody within the insurance industry or beyond it seems that optimistic about the much-heralded reduction in motor premiums the legislation is supposed to enable.
The mission of insurance legal expenses cover seems more relevant, here in the UK of 2019, than ever. Arag Insurance, an important provider of legal expenses cover feel that many people do not know their legal rights or indeed how to assert them; making correct legal advice essential. A legal expenses policy offers free legal advice on any problem 24 hours a day 365 days per year. If needs dictate the policy will then kick in for a huge range of covers and risks for both individuals and business. The legal landscape is changing and legal expenses insurance can help to plug the gaps, access to justice should be available to all. Arag and other legal expenses insurers are committed to fully protecting the interests of their policyholders.
Legal Expenses cover is available to both businesses and individuals – call Flint on 0800 021 4504 and we can discuss your best options for cover.