The Link between Poverty and Barriers to Access to Justice - UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights
Published 16/11/2018 by Stacey Lamb
The legal sector makes submissions to Prof. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, highlighting the link between poverty and barriers to accessing justice.
The UNSpecial Rapporteur’s twelve day visit to assess the impact of austerity on poverty and rights in the UK ends today. Prior to his visit, Prof. Alston received 280 submissions from organisations and individuals, including Citizens Advice, Public Law Project and The Law Society, evidencing restrictions to rights and justice throughout the UK.
The Law Society’s submission, “Access Denied? LASPO four years on: a Law Society review”, focuses on the impact of the cuts to Legal Aid introduced by LASPO 2012, highlighting how this has resultedin gaps in provision, barriers to Legal Aid and the detrimental impact the cutshave had to the poorest society. The submission includes 25 recommendations to government, focusing on issues including increasing children’s access to Legal Aid, reintroducing Legal Aid for earladvice, and improving Exceptional Case Funding and the Legal Aid means test. The Law Society’s recent research indicates that poverty-hit families are being denied Legal Aid because of the excessively restrictive formula that dictates financial eligibility for civil Legal Aid. The Public Law Project’s submission echoes these concerns and suggests that the mandatory telephone gateway acts as a barrier to accessing Legal Aid and emphasises the inadequacy of access to Exceptional Case Funding.
The roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) has put an increasing strain on free legal services, with Citizens Advice assisting over 47,000 people with issues surrounding UC, warning that 7million households face financial risk if roll-out is not paused. Prof. Alston’s assessment suggests that the inbuilt waiting times of UC has “caused unnecessary suffering and should be immediately scrapped”. This grave concern was also highlighted in by The Central England Law Centre’s submission, evidencing the impact of Universal Credit (UC) on poverty. With cuts to funding and one Council ending grants to Citizens Advice altogether, those wishing to access free legal advice have limited (if any) remaining options.
The impact of the UN Special Rapporteur’s findings is yet unclear, but the inquiry launched by the Work and Pensions Committee may indicate that the concerns raised by local and national services, reflected in Prof. Alston’s statement will be taken on board. A video of Prof. Alston outlining his preliminary findings can be found here.