Concern cuts to legal aid mean Norfolk people are losing access to justice
Controversial cuts to legal aid have hit people in Norfolk harder than other parts of the country, new figures have revealed.
It means people are increasingly representing themselves in family court cases because they cannot afford solicitors, while victims of domestic violence are among those finding it harder to afford representation, campaigners say.
Legal aid is given by the government to eligible people to help pay for legal advice, mediation or representation in court for civil problems such as housing, debt and family cases.
But governments have, over the years, changed the law surrounding who can get it.
Changes in 2013, which aimed to save £350m a year, meant some types of cases, such as divorce and child contact cases, were no longer eligible for public funds.
And members of Norwich City Council’s scrutiny committee will tomorrow examine the impact of that in Norfolk.
They will be presented with figures which show that, between 2011 and 2017 there has been a 65pc drop in the number of civil law cases funded through legal aid in Norfolk. Nationally, there has been a 46pc increase.
In 2011/12, there were 807 such cases in Norfolk funded with legal aid, while in 2016/17 there were just 282.
The Norfolk Community Law Service - which provides free social welfare advice - saw 2,493 new clients in 2016/17 - an increase of 6.7pc on the previous year.
The report councillors will consider states: “The highest reduction in social welfare legal aid cases locally has been in private family law – mostly in connection with divorce or parents’ separation, including parental disputes over access to and upbringing of children.
“This is one of the areas in which litigants in person are highly prevalent, with estimates that a third of all private family law cases now have no solicitor representing either side.”
There has been a 65pc decrease in domestic violence cases in Norfolk, compared to a 47pc drop nationally.
Although the changes preserved legal aid for domestic violence victims, Norfolk and Waveney domestic abuse charity Leeway says high thresholds mean women who are working cannot get legal aid, while those working part-time and getting tax credits can be above the limit to be eligible for legal aid.