The letter, reproduced below, can be accessed on the Guardian's website here.

Legal Aid cuts threaten our very democracy

In 2010, annual expenditure for the civil and criminal justice system stood at approximately £2bn per annum, which equates to the cost of running the NHS for a fortnight. Spending was falling and was not spiralling out of control. Now, after two years of an unprecedented programme of cuts, the level of spending is down to approximately £1.5bn per annum. The effect of the cuts is reflected in eye-watering statistics. From 2012-13 to 2013-14, debt cases fell from 81,792 to 2,423 and in clinical negligence from 2,859 to 114. In employment law, legally aided cases fell from 16,154 to six in the same period. The huge increase in employment tribunal fees has meant that people without deep pockets have little to no protection against unscrupulous employers. We know that cuts disproportionately affect women and, sure enough, the government’s own figures show an 80% drop in the number of women taking employment cases to tribunal. Funding in family law cases dropped by 60%, causing a predicted rise in unrepresented defendants, a trend now also starting to be seen in the criminal courts.


What the figures do not convey is the sheer human misery of being unable to get legal advice. GPs report a large increase in the number of patients who would have been assisted by advice on benefits, employment, debts and housing. Cuts to legal aid are literally making people sick. Civil servants in the Ministry of Justice admit the imperative has been to cut first and gather evidence later. As the justice committee recently noted, there has been no attempt to analyse the knock-on effects of the cut on other parts of government spending. Research by the Legal Action Group has demonstrated that every £1 spent on legal aid advice saves the state £6.


With cuts and debilitating restructuring comes the spectre of advice deserts, widespread miscarriages of justice, hundreds of thousands denied redress and the draining of the talent pool of future lawyers and judges as young people increasingly choose a career away from civil and criminal law. We now have a prison service with rising levels of self-harm, self-inflicted deaths and violence against staff and inmates, the perverse dismantling of the probation service with one in three officers set to be made redundant in the newly privatised services (plural) and disarray in our courts. All evidence of decision-making which has unpicked good practice and failed to address real systemic problems.


Politicians speak about access to justice as an optional extra that we simply cannot afford. But the introduction of legal aid, replacing the ad hoc “poor law” scheme of the 1920s and 1930s, came during a period of true austerity in the wake of the second world war. Access to justice is more than just a public good which we can choose to fund generously when we are told our economic fortunes allow. Without access to justice for all, inequalities take on a more dangerous edge which threatens the legitimacy of not just the justice system but our democracy.  

We call upon the next government to abandon the highly controversial restructuring of criminal defence, restore legal help to the many currently without redress and to establish a royal commission to investigate the current crisis regarding the diminution of access to justice. In addition we call for an independent body to review legal aid rates, including expert witness rates so as to depoliticise them and instead move to an evidence-based approach to ensure public need is adequately met in the provision of legal services.


Sir Anthony Hooper
Former Lord Justice of appeal, Judicial fellow of the Judicial Institute of University College, London
Sir Stephen Sedley Former Lord Justice of appeal, visiting professor, University of Oxford
Sir Alan Moses
Former Lord Justice of appeal
Lord Carlile QC
Lord Ramsbotham
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Baroness Lister of Burtersett
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC (Hon)
Frances Crook
Chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform
Shami Chakrabarti Director of Liberty
His Honour Judge Barrington Black
Dr Peter Green
Forensic physician and chairman, National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Child Safeguarding
Professor Marjorie Mayo
Emeritus professor of community development, Goldsmiths, University of London
Ian Lawrence
General secretary Napo – Probation and family courts
Margaret DeJong
Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist
Professor Ann M Mortimer
Emeritus professor of psychiatry, University of Hull
Bill Waddington
Chair, Criminal Law Solicitors Association
Jonathan Black
President, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association
Alistair MacDonald QC
Chair of the Bar Council
Nicola MackIntosh QC (Hon)
Co-chair, LAPG
Jenny Beck
Co-chair, LAPG
Steve Hynes
Director, Legal Action Group
Steven Hirsch
Professor emeritus, Imperial College London
Shauneen Lamb
Director of Just For Kids Law
Rhona Friedman
Co founder Justice Alliance
Zoe Gascoyne
Chair, Criminal Law Committee, Liverpool Law Society
Matt Foot
Co founder Justice Alliance
Daniel Machover
Chair of Inquest
Deborah Coles
Co-director, Inquest
Helen Shaw
Co-director, Inquest
Joe Mensah-Dankwah
Director, Black Solicitors Network
Ruth Hayes
Chair CYWNfP NISC, Unite the Union
Tony Cross QC
Chair Criminal Bar Association
Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC
Vice-chair the Bar Council
Katie Brown
Co-chair of Young Legal Aid Lawyers
Connor Johnston
Co-chair of Young Legal Aid Lawyers
Andrew O’Byrne QC
Leader of the Northern Circuit
John Elvidge QC
North Eastern Circuit
Andrew Langdon QC
Leader of the Western Circuit
Max Hill QC
Leader of the South Eastern Circuit
Richard Atkins QC
Leader of the Midlands Circuit
Paul Lewis QC
Leader of the Chester and Wales Circuit
Stephen Bowen
Director, British Institute of Human Rights
Mandie Lavin
Chief executive officer, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives
Robin Murray
Vice chair Criminal Law Solicitors Association
Julian Hayes
Vice president London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association
Dinah Rose QC
Michael Mansfield QC
Mark Fenhalls QC
Vice chair Criminal Bar Association
Joy Merriam
Chair Access to Justice Committee of the Law Society
Jane Hickman
Secretary Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association
Valentina Rusu
Director of RICOL, Interpreters’ and Translators’ Cooperative of London
Emma Scott
Director Rights of Women
Professor Richard Velleman
Emeritus professor of mental health research, University of Bath
Cris McCurley
Law Society legal aid lawyer of the year, partner BHBLLP Newcastle
Gareth Peirce
Birnberg Peirce
Andrew Holroyd
Saimo Chahal QC (Hon)
Rebecca Trowler QC
Dr Judith Freedman
Convenor of the Consortium of Expert Witnesses to the Family Courts
Mukul Chawla QC
Dr Shirley Gracias
Independent psychiatrist and Director of Families Inc CIC
Dr David M Foreman
Member, Child and Adolescent Faculty Executive, Royal College of Psychiatrists
Paul Harris
Past President London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association
Dr Tanya Garrett
Honorary senior lecturer, University of Birmingham
Professor Peter Kinderman
Professor of clinical psychology, University of Liverpool
Biza Stenfert Kroese
Senior lecturer in clinical psychology and consultant clinical psychologist, University of Birmingham
Jules Carey
Human rights lawyer, Bindmans LLP
Chris Topping
Chair, Access to Justice Committee, Liverpool Law Society
Louise Straw
President, Manchester Law Society
Gwyn Lewis
Chair, Magistrates and Crown Court Committee, Manchester Law Society
Hilary Eldridge
Chief executive, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation
Dr Richard Fry
Independent consultant child and family psychiatrist
Rachel Baldwin
President of Sheffield Law Society
Dr Mair Edwards
Clinical psychologist
Dr Miriam Silver
Consultant clinical psychologist children and parenting
Roger Ralph
Chair, CILEx legal aid working party
Guy Edwards
Emeritus NHS consultant
Robin Benians
Child, adolescent and family psychiatrist
Anca Ionescu
Director of RICOL, Interpreters’ and Translators’ Cooperative of London
Dr Malcolm Bourne
Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and London PLO Monitoring Group
Dr Kairen Cullen
Mike Jones
Former chair, Criminal Law Solicitors Association
Jon Barry Coldwell
Consultant in clinical and forensic psychology
Bernard Kat
Health and clinical psychologist
Steven Dawson
Honorary secretary, Sheffield Law Society
Carmel Jennings
Consultant child and family psychologist
Liz Hall
Greg Foxsmith
Junior vice-chair, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association
Dr T Nesic
Clinical director, Consultant child and adolescent psychotherapist
Vicki Hamilton
Clinical psychologist
Charles Zeitlin
Consultant clinical psychologist, West Sussex Risk Assessment Team
Dr Judith Anderson
Retired psychiatrist
Dr Diana Birch
Medical director, Youth Support
Dr Begum Maitra
Psychiatrist and psychotherapist
Jenny Wiltshire
Secretary, London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association
Dr Gwen Adshead
Consultant forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist
Dr Kabir Padamsee
Consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry
Dr Lori Bisbey
Consultant child, adult and family psychologist
Dr Kari Carstairs
Consultant clinical psychologist
Dr Eveline B Knight-Jones
Steven Bird
Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association
Cllr Dr Lynn Moore
Mushtaq Khan
President, Birmingham Law Society
Dr Claire Sturge
Harrow CAMHS
Dr Mike Harris
Consultant forensic psychiatrist
James Turner
Chair, Criminal Law Committee, Birmingham Law Society
Dr Jacqueline Blyth
Consultant clinical psychologist
Dr Waseem Alladin
Founding Editor in Chief, Counselling Psychology Quarterly, Consultant clinical and counselling psychologist/Forensic clinical neuropsychologist
Dr Jaime Craig
Consultant clinical psychologist
Chris Henley QC
Dr Naomi Murphy
Consultant clinical and forensic psychologist
Dr Lars Davidsson
Prof Dr Eia Asen
Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist
Mr W D Newman
Consultant paediatric ophthalmic surgeon
Ian Anderson
Chartered psychologist
Charles Neal
Treasurer, Sheffield Law Society
Dr Evril Silver
Consultant clinical psychologist
Ben Dawson
Trainee clinical psychologist, Lancaster University
Adam Wagner
Human rights barrister
Dr Lynne Amidon
Consultant child and adolescent pyschotherapist
Dr P J Kennedy
Consultant in clinical and forensic psychology
Will Curvis
Trainee clinical psychologist
Peter Parnes
Clinical psychologist
Dr Gordon Milson
Clinical psychologist
Francis Fitzgibbon QC
Dr Denise McCartan
Clinical psychologist
Paul Cousins
Consultant forensic clinical psychologist
Dr Sarah Krahenbuhl
Dr Gemma Cheney
Chartered clinical psychologist
Dr Mary Murphy-Ford
Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and adult psychotherapist
Linda Jeffes
Independent chartered clinical psychologist
Dr Stephen Weatherhead
Clinical psychologist
Sylvia Duncan
Consultant clinical psychologist
Dr Janine R Braier
Consultant clinical psychologist
Nicola Palfrey
Legal Aid solicitor
James Palfrey
Legal Aid solicitor
Chris Ramsay
South-west regional representative, Amnesty International UK