Article #4

30 July 2019 21:34 by Salvatore Saporito

In the space of 5 years, spending on legal aid has shrunk by more than £1billion in the UK. By the autumn of 2019, the Ministry of Justice will have seen cuts to its budget of 40%. When this number is quantified in terms of people eligible to make use of this service, The Guardian reported that this number has shrunk from 573,737 to 140,091. With government cuts contracting the scope of this service by 75%, it has become increasingly difficult for the most needy to gain legal representation under a public framework.

These cuts have aroused widespread denunciation from the legal community. Whilst the government maintains that these budgetary restrictions were put in place to detract from a “litigative society”, designed to encourage people to treat the courts as a last resort, these cuts have hit more deeply. This has resulted in what Amnesty International describe as a “two tier legal system” that discriminates against society’s most vulnerable despite government claims that cuts would only affect 2% of cases. Whilst access to wealth has long been a defined an individual’s capacity to instruct council, these cuts have particularly impacted the most helpless and marginalised. For instance, legal aid has been withdrawn from all child cases and legal areas including: private family law, immigration and welfare benefits. The withdrawal of funds in these areas will deeply impact the efficacy of social equality as the poorest are forced to exist without the protection of civil justice, or the opportunity to receive legal aid.

As the Ministry of Justice has seen a downward trend in its funding, crowdfunding has arisen as one alternative funding source. Crowdfunding connects litigants with sponsors who are prepared to contribute funds to cases even though they have no pre-existing interest in the litigation. This is a model which has found some success and popularity in software development and investment circles typically emerging in the USA. The question is: is this a credible and sustainable model for providing legal support in the UK?  In this article we discuss the potential implications of crowdfunding as a funding component for the UK justice system and discuss whether—as a last resort— private investors should be picking up the pieces of a broken system?

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