Anyone who has picked up a paper in recent months will understand that our justice system is coming under enormous pressure. The huge IT failure experienced in January, which delayed trials up and down the country, was just a symptom of a much wider malaise that has made it ever harder for people to obtain legal advice and, ultimately, to access justice.

The Legal Aid budget has seen huge cuts since LASPOA (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) was passed in 2012, falling by more than a third in real terms, between 2011 and 2018.

Over the same period, the number of solicitor firms in England and Wales working on civil legal aid cases reduced by more than 30%, leaving areas of the country and millions of people with no provision at all, for some case types.

Other routes to legal advice have become increasingly difficult to navigate, as numerous Law Centres and Citizens Advice Bureau have been forced to close, following cuts to their funding. The number of not-for-profit organisations offering civil legal aid is less than half what it was in 2011.

Among widespread reports of court buildings falling into serious disrepair, more than 200 courts and tribunals have been closed entirely over the past decade, and the properties sold off. But attempts to modernise the justice system and reduce the number of cases being heard have not been entirely successful.

The fees of up to £1,200 to bring an employment tribunal claim, introduced in 2013, helped to cut the number of claims being submitted by about 70 per cent, but the total has more than doubled since the fee regime was ruled unlawful in 2017, and is now approaching its pre-fee level again. The number of claims being resolved has not kept pace though, resulting in frustrating and costly delays for employees and employers alike.

Of course, all this makes legal expenses insurance more important than ever.

While lauded by many insurers, the passage of the Civil Liability Act, at the end of last year, is just the latest example of access to justice being curtailed, especially for poorer and more vulnerable people.

Whether the Act will do anything to resolve the (in fact, declining) problem of spurious and exaggerated claims or just move it on, remains to be seen, but nobody within our industry or beyond it seems that optimistic about the much heralded reduction in motor premiums the legislation is supposed to enable.

ARAG’s mission seems more relevant, here in the UK in 2019, than ever. As our business grows, steadily and securely, we remain as committed as ever to enabling all citizens, regardless of their means, to access our struggling justice system.

Tony signature

Disclaimer - all information in this article was correct at time of publishing.