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Legal aid is viewed as one of the three pillars of the welfare state vision, introduced in 1949, together with the NHS and social security system. Since then it has helped people face up to their opponents on an equal footing. Now, as Supreme Court Judge Lord Wilson said this summer, the courts are full of litigants who have to represent themselves, often “very ineptly”. Speaking in Chicago, he said, “The disadvantaged who need to be acquainted with their human rights and helped to enforce them were unlikely to be able to do so without free legal advice and representation”.

This unlikely advertisement for legal protection policies is backed by recent research from ARAG that shows telephone legal advice running at 85% higher volumes than five years ago. “The message is getting through that our policies are great value even when no claim is made”, comments Underwriting & Marketing Director David Haynes. “Requests for free legal advice – that might easily cost £150 from a solicitor – are now often being sought by ARAG policyholders on an average of once each, every year”. These requests for help come from across the spectrum of policyholders and span all areas of law. In the past 12 months, calls are up on average by 37%.

As Lord Wilson also said, “Even where it is required to continue to provide free legal aid... the UK is dismantling it indirectly by setting rates of remuneration for the lawyers at levels so uneconomical that, reluctantly, most of them feel unable to do that work. Access to justice is under threat in the UK”.

In Bristol there are currently only 65 criminal duty solicitors to service an area in which over 700,000 people live. Neighbouring Somerset is even worse off, with only 46, of whom 61% are over 50 years old. Many areas of England & Wales have no criminal duty solicitors under the age of 35. They could become an extinct breed within a decade, according to the Law Society, which also reminds us that they have had no fee increase since 1998.

The need for helplines is unequivocal: getting the message to potential customers is paramount.

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

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