The government’s relectuance to put money into the legal system is creating legal aid “deserts” where people to not have access to justice, the president of the Law Society has said.
Paul Marsh said the justice system was chronically underfunded and needed more money to be put into it as soon as possible.
He said: “The government don’t have the money for a legal aid budget, and they are cutting back and cutting back.
“You get legal aid deserts, there’s no focus, for example, in rural areas. In some places like Rutland I understand there’s no legal aid at all.
“You also get in areas that are seen as very middle class. If the area’s wealthy offices are very expensive, and the people who live there without as much money are likely to be left out. Frankly [the government] need much more money to be made available.”
He said the system had been put under further strain by the thousands of new offences introduced by the Government. He added: “If we have got more offences then you need more money to deal with it because more people are going to be charged.
“Then of course, you have got the issue of terrorism, where substantial sums of money are spent.”
He said the issue had been allowed to slide because there was no political will to spend money on what was seen by voters as an unpopular service. He said: “It isn’t a vote winner at all, but I do have some hopes that things can be improved. We are working with the Government and we are making our case.”
Mr Marsh was first elected to the Law Society Council in 1987, was re-elected in 1999 and again in 2007 to represent the Surrey constituency. He was Chairman of the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (SIF) between 2003 and 2006.
He has played an outspoken role as head of the Society, including playing a leading role in voicing the profession’s criticisms of Home Information Packs (HIPS) legislation. He is now committed to ensuring that solicitors remain at the centre of the conveyancing process.
Another aspect he has been trying to push is improving levels of equality in the legal sector. While gender equality has nearly disappeared at an entry level for lawyers, there are still many problems in terms of working rights and the perceived glass ceiling on pay, he said.
Two weeks ago the Midlands branch of the Association of Women Solicitors relaunched itself on its first birthday, after organisers said the fight for equal numbers in the workplace had been won.