Research published by the Law Society into the benefits of early legal advice have added to growing evidence that the 2013 legal aid cuts have been a false economy. The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI shows a clear statistical link between getting early legal advice and resolving problems sooner.
Early advice is defined as within three months of the issue first occurring. Professional legal advice covered advice from a solicitor, or other professional advisors such as Citizen Advice Bureaux or trade unions. The research shows that, on average, one in four people who receive early professional legal advice had resolved their problem within three to four months. It took nine months on average for a quarter of those who did not receive early advice to resolve their problems.
It was also found that, at any given point between an issue arising and the problem being resolved, people who did not receive early advice were 20% less likely than average to have had their issue resolved.
‘Without early advice, relatively minor legal problems can escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, placing additional pressure and cost on already stretched public services,’ said Law Society vice president Christina Blacklaws. ‘The current situation is unsustainable. If early advice was available to those who need it, issues could be resolved before they worsen and become more costly for the individual – and the public purse.’
The report noted particular issues in housing and family law. In housing law, a lack of early advice for minor disrepair matters can mean issues such as faulty electrics or a leaking roof escalate, potentially creating health, social and financial problems. In family law, mediation referrals have plummeted, putting pressure on the courts and, therefore, public finances.
This new information adds weight to the arguments being made by many lawyers that early legal advice – much of which was removed under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) – should be reinstated. Ms Blacklaws added: ‘The benefits of early advice are clear. We are calling on the government to ensure justice is accessible to those who need it.’
Dame Elish Angiolini QC, who published her independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody, said the lack of automatic funding for advice and representation at inquests was a false economy because coroners had to go the extra mile to help unrepresented families.
Knowledge of legal rights was the third most important factor affecting the likelihood of resolution, with participants who had little knowledge of their legal rights being 33% less likely to resolve their problems. The report suggested that the importance of this factor potentially indicates the benefits that could arise from legal education programmes.
The full report can be found on the Law Society’s website.
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