This week is Sheffield Hallam’s Social Justice Week - a joint initiative between Hallam University's Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice and the Department of Humanities. There are a number of fantastic events being put on covering a whole range of topics relating to social justice. For a list of events click here.
As an MP, I see the absolute attack on access to justice by this Government on an almost daily basis, as more and more people can’t access legal aid and justice is effectively becoming unaffordable. The Law Society have found a massive 600,000 people lost the ability to access civil legal aid since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
This is putting real pressure on those who previously relied on courts to help with family, clinical negligence cases, welfare and immigration cases, unfair dismissal and sexual harassment cases and many more. People now do not have access to support to help them resolve these issues and many have had no choice other than to defend themselves - having the perverse consequence that court time is wasted, at greater cost to the taxpayer.
To take just one example of this, I have met many residents with disabilities or with long term illnesses who are facing an uphill battle with the system that is meant to support them with the difficulties they may face. The justice system is often their only chance to resolve and challenge decisions made.
Private companies, paid on results, overseeing the assessments that deem people “fit for work” are proving a disaster. More and more people need access to information and legal advice as they take on appeals. Constituents have reported to me that the reports produced about their Work Capability Assessments bear no resemblance to what occurred in the actual test.
These Work Capability Assessments have high appeals rates and lots of these cases end up in tribunals. Our courts are overturning decisions due to the incompetence and fabrication found in these reports by these private companies. This is very concerning and for these people, it is devastating adding unnecessary emotional and mental stress to people who are unable to work.
Free legal advice is now the only hope for a lot of people, putting a lot of pressure on our advice centres that do a sterling job given the challenges they face. However volunteer legal centres have been closing across the country as funding disappears. This government seems to want a two tier system for justice, one for those who can afford it and those who can’t. Being priced out of justice is simply not acceptable.