Editorial: Legal aid and social exclusion

Another bleak snap-shot of the state of access to justice was provided courtesy of the Legal Service Commission (LSC) a few days later. Far from revealing a ‘compensation crazy’ public, as the tabloids might put it, the survey of 6,000 adults in England and Wales revealed that one in five people who encounter legal difficulties do not take any step to solve the issue because, in the words of the Commission, they “don’t understand their basic rights or know how to seek help”. For these reasons, the LSC reckoned that every year one million legal problems go unsolved.

Break the figures down a bit further and the picture becomes even grimmer. Unsurprisingly, those groups vulnerable to social exclusion suffer more problems more often: four in five people living in temporary accommodation reported that they had non-criminal problems with the law; two in three lone parents and over half of unemployed people had legal issues. Almost half of those reporting a problem (46 per cent) reported more than one problem. It is little surprise that lack of access to legal advice and social exclusion go hand-in-hand.

“This research confirms the extent to which access to justice must remain an integral part of our social policy objectives,” said the minister for legal aid David Lammy at the launch. “It also supports a number of current initiatives which are helping us to identify today’s legal needs.” For reasons of further enlightenment, one hopes that Mr Lammy cross-references his new report with last week’s research from Citizens Advice. It will provide him with an insight into how New Labour’s legal aid vision and their “current initiatives” are going down at ground level – one in four CAB regard themselves as being stuck slap-bang in the middle of a so-called ‘legal aid advice desert’. When advisers were asked specifically whether they regarded the Community Legal Service as having improved accessibility to legal help for those facing social exclusion an overwhelming majority (84 per cent) said ‘No’.