Unless you’re in the business of making commercial acquisitions, or you’re looking to buy a home, the only time you will require legal advice or representation is if something has happened to you in life that wasn’t planned.

You may be going through a divorce, lost your job, evicted from your property by your landlord, had an accident at work, accused of a crime you didn’t commit or indeed been the victim of a crime.

Any of the above scenarios are life-altering experiences. Some of them may involve intentional breaches of the law, others will be because the person or organisation committing that breach is unaware that they have done so.

For people to understand their rights, they require access to legal advice – and if they have a case, they will need a lawyer to represent them.

Access to justice is a fundamental human right and it is protected under a range of international human rights treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which is incorporated into our domestic law via the Human Rights Act 1998.

The right to access to justice is also protected under our common law, with the Supreme Court stating in the Unison v Lord Chancellor case that the right is ‘deeply embedded in our constitutional law’.


Unfortunately, the reality is that since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), access to the justice is beyond the reach of a significant number of people – particularly in Wales.

Before LASPO legal aid covered a range of areas of law that allowed those requiring advice and representation to access it. The system wasn’t perfect, but it was much better back then. It covered employment law, welfare law, consumer law, clinical negligence, private family law (e.g. divorce), criminal injuries compensation law (for victims of crime), among others.

This is no longer the case.

LASPO didn’t just go after legal aid. It resulted in the closure of courts and Law Centres. The latter a vital service that allowed people to get advice that would usually mean they had enough information to protect themselves – such as a disabled person being advised that their employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments in their place of work.

Law Centres relied on legal aid contracts. However, because legal aid is now so limited and the threshold for someone to qualify for it is so high, their doors have closed because they cannot afford to keep the lights on. This sorry state of affairs means there is just one Law Centre in Wales – the Speakeasy in Cardiff.


The cuts have created what the Thomas Commission – an independent commission set up a few years ago to consider the devolution of justice in Wales – described as ‘advice deserts’ in rural and valleys areas in Wales.

These advice deserts and the limited scope for legal aid have led to people representing themselves in courts and tribunals. It’s why lawyers like myself have had to set up pro bono clinics to try and paper over the cracks – but what we’re doing is nowhere near enough.

The cruel reality of the cuts have resulted in women being cross-examined by an abusive partner in the family courts. People kicked to the street by a landlord left to fight unlawful evictions on their own. Those on benefits wrongfully sanctioned by the state having no-one to help them challenge the DWP’s decision. People wrongfully accused of a crime waiting years to be cleared – and when they are cleared receiving no compensation for their lives being trashed to the point they have lost their job, home and loved ones. And finally, employers getting away with unfairly dismissing their employees.

The final point is why I would encourage anyone who has a recognised union in their workplace to join it immediately. If you don’t have one in the workplace, fight for one. Take some inspiration from the Amazon workers across the pond.

Things are likely to get worse under this Tory government before they get better.

But they can get better if we devolve justice in Wales, as is the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see the recent report Delivering Justice in Wales setting out what a devolved justice system in Wales might look like by heeding the recommendations made by the independent Thomas Commission – the same commission that said people in Wales are being let down by the justice system in its present state.

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In overseeing a devolved justice system, the Welsh Government would ‘guarantee’ access to justice with increased funding for legal services, evaluate the effectiveness of remote hearings (hopefully with a view to expanding them if the evaluation is positive), expand public legal education and identify how to support pro bono services, and oppose proposals to reduce the level of rights protected in the Human Rights Act – hence the talk of a Welsh Bill of Rights.

The Welsh Government will also look to reform the devolved tribunals in Wales, such as those relating to mental health, residential property, special educational needs, among others. The aim is to broaden the scope of the tribunals and create a single, unified and coherent system of tribunals that will bring all of the above under one roof, in addition to a newly created Appeals Tribunal for Wales.

This is all exciting stuff for the anoraks out there, and for everyone else, especially those in Wales shut out from accessing their fundamental human right – because access to justice affects us all.  

When the shutters are brought down on justice, as the Counsel General recently described the LASPO cuts, claims are not heard and precedents are not set. If Mr Smith in the holiday pay claim I wrote about a few columns ago didn’t have the means to access justice, his claim would not have been heard because legal aid would not have covered it.

The precedent from the Smith claim wouldn’t have been set and a huge number of people would still be without the employment rights they gained from that judgement.

The Welsh Government will have a job on their hands convincing Westminster’s authoritarian Tory government to hand over power so we can improve our justice system in Wales.

But nothing worth fighting for is easy. Viva la devolution.

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