21 October 2016
The research carried out by the TUC, which included a survey of staff working in courts and the Crown Prosecution Service, including PCS members, highlights major failings in the justice system due to court closures, staff cuts and legal aid cuts.
As part of its current transformation programme the government is looking to increase the reliance on digital technology for the delivery of justice. Yet only 4% agreed that IT used in courts works efficiently, and the language used by staff to describe the systems, which included ‘ancient’, ‘unreliable’ and ‘incompatible’, will not give the public confidence that justice can be delivered more efficiently by using technology instead of physical courts.
The report recommends a halt to court closures before the impact of previous ones has been properly assessed, and that technology should be developed in collaboration with staff and fully tested before being rolled out across court services.
It raises particular concerns about the devastating impact legal aid cuts are having on women and children’s access to justice, and for those needing advice and representation in areas of civil law such as debt, housing and immigration.
Repeated concerns were raised about the impact on survivors of domestic violence, with a 16% fall seen in domestic violence applications for legal aid between 2011/12 and 2015/16.
With the TUC reporting that 3.2m households are in debt, it is also alarming that there has been a 99% drop in cases relating to legal help for debt between 2011/12 and 2015/16.
Justice delayed is justice denied
Not only are legal aid cuts causing misery for those trying to access the courts but they are also causing frustration for staff trying to deliver an efficient service.
Two-thirds of staff who responded to the survey believe that cases are taking longer since civil legal aid cuts were introduced. According to the vast majority of respondents (87%) the rise in litigants in person (people using the courts with no legal representation) that has resulted from the cuts, have had a detrimental impact on the ability of family and civil courts to deliver justice fairly, effectively and efficiently.
With court services in chaos and access to justice being denied to the many, PCS believes it is time the government listened to staff and experts and reviews the damaging impact of its cuts and closures, before continuing with its reform programme.
The Justice Denied report has been released by the TUC as part of the joint union campaign Speak up for Justice which PCS plays a key part in.