LASPO, unless you have some sort of involvement with the law, probably comes across as some sort of quango that doesn’t have much meaning. However, it is probably the most crucial piece of justice related legislation since the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (which established the Supreme Court).
The Government’s consultation on the effects of LASPO has just concluded and every organisation who has submitted evidence to the Ministry of Justice consultation has broadly said the same thing. It has not worked.
What the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) did was bring about a wide range of reforms that reduced the scope for Legal Aid, the ramifications of which are still being felt six years on.
LASPO had four aims:
1. to discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at the public expense
2. to target legal aid to those who need it most
3. to make significant savings to the cost of the scheme
4. to deliver better overall value for money for the taxpayer
However, as analysis by several bodies conducting research into the effects of LASPO shows us, the legislation failed rather spectacularly on all counts. One report by the leading industry charity, LawWorks, details how the post-LASPO period leaves the area of Child Law particularly vulnerable.
The law is reason free from passion…Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all. – Aristotle
As Aristotle says, the law is reason free from passion, however, the implementation of LASPO means there has been a significant rise in “litigants in person”, a claimant or respondent representing themselves without the use of legal representation.
This rise begs the question, how can the law be reason free from passion when those advocating on behalf of themselves are, while admirably passionate, often this, understandably clouds their reason.
I found myself having a conversation with a senior judge last week when the issue of children and the law came up. Following this conversation about the lack of advocates in our courts she made the observation that, it is not only shocking that in child related matters there is often no advocate present, it is also irresponsible as no parent can be reasonably expected to advocate emotionlessly when it is their child involved.
Working in child law, you see the effects of LASPO day in, day out and they are not pretty, it was however, a Coalition government bill and while I am generally a great supporter of our work during it, we must be mindful of when our policies were wrong, I hope our current parliamentary cohort campaigns vigorously against the further £300 million cuts that are set to impede access to justice and undermine the rule of law.
So, the question stands, why did the Liberal Democrats not ensure LASPO made adequate provisions for the protection of children and what is our strategy to rectify this?
* Callum Robertson is the Chair of Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform