CITIZENS' advice bureau lawyers have condemned the legal system in a wide-ranging report which claims that “justice is a luxury”.
Solicitors, court staff and legal institutions are all criticised in the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux report Barriers to Justice.
The 102-page document says thousands of people using lawyers or the courts suffer expense, delay and confusion because of the way the system operates.
NACAB makes 60 recommendations to bodies such as the Law Society, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Court Services Agency.
Chief executive Ann Abraham said: “The real price of controlling legal aid spending has been paid by the thousands of people of modest means who now find justice is a luxury.”
The report, based on information from 350 citizens advice bureaux up and down the country, says solicitors flout their professional rules by failing to warn clients about potential costs.
It says legal aid budget cuts have reduced access to justice, and, in the courts, papers are frequently lost, mistakes are made in compiling documents and staff do not provide good advice for users.
NACAB blames lawyers' fees, court delays and government legislation for pushing up the cost to the taxpayer of the legal system. Among recommendations are:
the Law Society should be tougher when enforcing solicitors' rules;
Law firms should adopt written complaints' procedures;
a free or fixed fee interview scheme should be introduced;
county court closures should be halted;
compensation should be given to victims of mistakes made by the courts.