A candidate for the Labour deputy-leadership position slammed government cuts to legal-aid and called for their reversal on Tuesday.
During justice questions in the Commons, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said that cuts to the legal-aid budget have “deprived people of their human rights” and must be reversed.
The deputy-leadership hopeful quoted a dossier produced by Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who in 2019 compiled a record of the accumulated impact of austerity cuts in the UK.
“A year ago the UN special rapporteur said Conservative cuts to legal aid have effectively deprived people of their human rights to a remedy", the shadow justice secretary said.
“Isn’t it the case that if the UN special rapporteur came back today they would make exactly the same finding, because this government has done nothing to address this?"
“Is that failure to respond because of incompetence, or is simply because they do not care?”, he added.
The newly elected Tory MP for Derbyshire Dales, Sarah Dines, a former legal-aid barrister, also criticised government cuts to the legal-aid budget and urged the government to increase expenditure.
Tory Justice minister Wendy Morton replied to the criticism, highlighting government spending of £1.7 billion last year on legal help and is currently looking into “a series of pilots” which provide social support to those who need it most.
She clarified however that it is essential that legal aid only be used by those “who need it most” and that applicants are subject to rigorous tests to ensure legitimacy.
Despite claims of increased funding from the government, the number of unrepresented defendants in crown courts has increased in recent years.
Government figures revealed in November that 7.7 per cent had no legal representation at their first hearing and increase of 2.8 per cent from the 4.9 figure in 2010.