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Accessing justice without legal aid
November 2015
Sleepless nights
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank all of the research participants in
this study, who kindly shared their views and experiences.
We would also like to thank Social Policy Association and
Linklaters LLP for their support with the report launch.
A special thank you goes to Semih Sapmaz, Peter
Cruickshank, Kevin Joseph Wanjohi, Ruth Audu, Kirsty
Woodford and Shuhena Khanam for their vital contributions.
Lead Researcher: Dr. Xia Lin
Report Authors: Dr. Xia Lin (Toynbee Hall),
Dr. Alessio D'Angelo (Middlesex University, SPRC)
and Emma Pheby (Toynbee Hall)
Research Assistants: Naomi Mead, Vivienne Robins,
Neil Kaye and Dee Tawiah
3
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
This research is one in a series of joint initiatives between
Toynbee Hall and Middlesex University:
Toynbee Hall
Toynbee Hall, founded in 1884, is a community organisation that
pioneers ways to reduce poverty and disadvantage. It gives some
of the country's most deprived communities a voice, providing
access to free advice and support services. Toynbee Hall's Free
Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) is the longest running free legal advice
centre in the world. It helps people from across London to tackle
social injustice and improve their lives.
Research and evaluation have been part of Toynbee Hall's work
and its identity since the organisation was founded as a University
Settlement, which took learning on the issues of the day and
used them to find practical solutions and policies 'on the ground'.
In 2014, the Information Team was established at Toynbee Hall
to focus on research that gives those affected by poverty and
exclusion a voice. Our postdoctoral, postgraduate and
professional researchers (staff, interns and volunteers) carry
out research in a range of areas such as social exclusion,
access to services, social networks and wellbeing.
For information email: research@toynbeehall.org.uk.
Middlesex University and Social Policy Research Centre
Middlesex University is a London university, with three overseas
campuses in Dubai, Mauritius and Malta. Middlesex offers a
broad range of courses through its six academic schools of Arts
and Design, Media and Performing Arts, Business, Science and
Technology, Health and Education and Law.
The Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) operates within the
university's School of Law (www.mdx.ac.uk/sprc), initiating and
supporting high quality research of national and international
standing. Its researchers use innovative methodologies to
undertake research on new and emerging topics within the
social sciences, in particular with neglected and marginalised
communities, at a local, national and international level. Staff are
involved in a wide range of projects funded by research councils,
the EU, government departments and the major charities.
Since 2014, Middlesex University's School of Law has been
running a Free Legal Advice Centre (LAC) at the Hendon Campus,
offering pro bono assistance to the public and members of the
University. For information email: MDXLac@mdx.ac.uk.
5
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Contents
7 Executive Summary
8 Introduction
10 Uncovering lived experiences: our approach
12 Accessing justice without legal aid: key findings
12 Sumi and her son
13 The journey: 'Can I see it through?'
14 Imbalance of power: 'They can do it and get away with it'
16 The costs: 'How they are saving money, I have no idea'
18 Finding help: 'Trust me I've been everywhere'
21 Free Legal Advice Centre: 'An oasis in the desert'
25 Recommendations
26 References
6
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
7
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
In response to the need for a client-based perspective,
Toynbee Hall and Middlesex University conducted primary
research to examine the impact of legal aid cuts on people's lived
experiences. Based on data from in-depth interviews, survey
and two sets of service evaluation data, this research suggests
that seeking justice without legal aid is a precursor to sleepless
nights - feeling stressed, powerless and unable to get on with life.
Our study shows legal aid cuts have direct and indirect costs to
individuals, their families and society as a whole. Some participants
who received legal aid support in the past were shocked to find
that they are not eligible anymore. Many feel a power imbalance
especially when the other side is represented and they are not. It
raises the question of whether access to justice is now dependent
on people's wealth, ability and knowledge.
In addition, our data suggests there is an impact on mental health
among people seeking justice without legal aid. This has been
highlighted in our interviewee's narratives and evidenced by the fact
that 78% of survey respondents experienced high levels of anxiety.
Some participants find themselves less equipped to function as
a parent and in work, and this has a negative impact on the lives
of their children and family members. Examples of participants
repeatedly filling in forms incorrectly and taking months to find a
specialist barrister also suggest that legal processes could take
longer than necessary involving extra court administration costs.
Participants emphasise that a free legal advice services advisor
is not just a lawyer but also a friend and counsellor. Over half
(61%) of the respondents consider free legal advice services
as their main support to confide their worries in. Toynbee
Hall's Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) is highly regarded
and considered to be 'an oasis in the desert' and 'completely
unique' within free legal advice agencies.
Based on the findings, we recommend that more legal support
needs to be in place through re-establishing a wider legal aid
programme and providing more funding for free legal advice
agencies. Support structures need to be established alongside
legal advice, particularly with regards to possible impacts
on mental health. Mental health volunteering programmes
could provide additional emotional support for service users
without greatly increased cost. Further research is also needed
especially a larger-scale assessment of the impact of legal aid
cuts on individuals.
'a free legal
advice services
advisor is
not just a
lawyer but
also a friend
and counsellor'
Executive Summary
8
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
In April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of
Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) was enforced. This Act aimed
to reduce the legal aid budget of £2 billion by £350 million,
through cutting entitlement in key areas of family, immigration,
employment, housing, debt and benefits law issues (Ministry of
Justice, 2012). This legislation is deeply controversial. Since equal
access to justice for all members of society is integral to the Rule
of Law, senior judicial figures, legal advice providers, professional
associations and academics have criticised legal aid cuts for
eroding this rudimentary legal principle (see example Bennett,
2014; Caplan, 2014; Neuberger, 2013; Morris and Barr, 2013;
Scott, 2014). In September 2015, the Labour party launched a new
review into the effects of the cuts (LabourList, 2015) which again
draws attention to the crisis.
From its inception, LASPO was criticised by the
Bar Council for its potential to disproportionately
deny poorer people access to justice, with
warnings of a two-tier justice system (Bennett,
2014). A dominant theme was anger at
misrepresentation of its rationale, as it was sold
as a temporary necessity for taxpayers rather
than an ideological reform with no plans for repeal
(Wilmot-Smith, 2014). This was complemented
by concern about unintended impacts, ranging
from a radically different legal service provision
which excludes the complex cases of people
in need, to litigants in person slowing the courts
(Bevan, 2013; Bennett, 2014). These trends
have further been contextualised by case studies
in family (Cobb, 2013; Morris, 2013), housing
(Whitehouse and Bright, 2014) and immigration
issues (Meyler and Woodhouse, 2013).
Legal aid cuts have fundamentally impacted the not-for-profit
advice sector, with which Toynbee Hall is concerned. Several
reviews have examined LASPO's impact for this sector
within the wider conditions of increasing privatisation and
competition. Predictions indicate a more uncertain climate
in the sector, with advice provision which is less specialised
and professional and with jobs at risk (Sommerlad and
Sanderson, 2013; Morris and Barr, 2013; Byrom, 2014;
Buck and Smith, 2013).
Introduction
'Legal aid
cuts have
fundamentally
impacted the
not-for-profit
advice sector'
9
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Many commentators have pinpointed significant illogicality and cost
to the cuts, echoed in wider critiques of the austerity regime:
The cuts raise questions about the treatment of the vulnerable,
who are often multiply deprived, as issues of poverty, health and
social capital clustered together (Pleasence et al, 2004). The
complexity of clients' problems has led to the principles of civil law
becoming deeply and increasingly interwoven with most issues of
social agency and basic social welfare (Morris and Barr, 2013).
In a recent report, the House of Commons (2015) notes that while
the reforms to civil legal aid had made significant savings in the
cost of the scheme, the Ministry of Justice had harmed access to
justice and had not met three out of four of its stated objectives for
the reforms. These three objectives are to 'discourage unnecessary
and adversarial litigation at public expenses', 'target legal aid to
those who need it most' and 'deliver better overall value for money
for the taxpayer'. The report further recommends that it is crucial the
Ministry undertake research to review the current policy (House of
Commons, 2015:3-4).
Necessarily, much of the argument so far has been made through
surveying and interviewing professionals. A few studies (e.g.
Robins, 2011; Sandbach, 2012) were conducted prior to legal
aid cuts, which used positive case studies to evidence the benefit
of having legal aid. These studies anticipated the range and
complexity of impact as the cuts take place and began to move
towards a reflection of the vulnerable.
There is therefore a real need for client-based research and this
study was conducted in response to the need. We aimed to
examine the impact of legal aid cuts on people's lived experiences
and find possible solutions to the current challenge.
Austerity dictates that scarce resources are dedicated to
the ongoing crisis, thereby directing resources away from
preventative services …This means that increasingly people are
being allowed to drift towards crisis before qualifying
for services
(GMCVO 2012:4).
"
"
10
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Using both qualitative and quantitative
methods, this study explores people's lived
experience of seeking justice without legal
aid. Quantitative data was collected to
deliver an overview of people's needs and
experiences. 100 service users at Toynbee
Hall's Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) took
part in a survey. They varied in terms of age,
gender (Figure 1) and ethnicity (Figure 2).
The participants lived in different boroughs
in London. They largely came from Tower
Hamlets (33%), Hackney (28%) and Newham
(8%) and then from North East boroughs
(12%), but one as far as West London.
Uncovering lived experiences: our approach
Age
Female
Male
Total
20 - 29
16%
19%
17%
30 - 39
32%
26%
29%
40 - 49
30%
19%
25%
50 - 59
18%
30%
23%
60+
5%
7%
6%
Total
57
43
100
1 Age and gender
Sample size 100
2 Ethnicity of survey respondents:
White British (15%)
Other White (24%)
Other Asian (7%)
Bangladeshi (12%)
Black/Black British (29%)
Mixed (6%)
Other (7%)
11
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Most of the survey respondents have issues
in areas in which legal aid has been cut such
as employment, housing and family law. The
breakdown of the participants' cases represents
FLAC's users profile in general which will be
presented in the findings section. For these
participants, we performed a rough financial
eligibility check to get an estimate of how many
would have been eligible for legal aid if it was
available in those areas (without consideration
of the merits criteria that the case has to have at
least a 50% chance of success). Tracking two of
the core financial indicators - receipt of income-
related benefits and their monthly household
income (below £2657 before tax), the rough
eligibility check suggests that 95% of our research
participants would have been eligible for legal aid
if it was in place.
The survey respondents were very keen to have
their voices heard. As well as responding to the
closed survey questions, most of them wrote in
length about their experiences in the comment
section and such data was also used for the
analysis.
In addition to the survey, data from recent
evaluation of Toynbee Hall Initial Assessment
service (sample size: 807) and FLAC (sample
size: 1494) was used to help draw a fuller picture.
The research findings draw heavily on our
qualitative approach as it goes deep into people's
personal experiences providing rich and vivid
understanding of the impact of the legal aid
cuts. We conducted 10 interviews with service
users at FLAC, most of whom received legal
aid prior to the funding cuts. These individuals
had one or more issues in employment, housing
and family law, and were at different stages of
dealing with their case. To protect the participants'
anonymity, all names used in this report are
pseudonyms.
'The survey
respondents
were very
keen to have
their voices
heard'
12
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Sumi and her son
This finding section will start with a story of Sumi
and her son as their experiences highlight the key
themes commonly underlined in this research.
Sumi is a single mother with a 9-year-old boy.
She lives with her landlord, his son, and many
other tenants in his 3 bedroom flat. At one stage
there were 5 people living in her room. Everyone
pays the landlord cash so he can still claim
benefits. Sumi stopped paying him by cash but
through bank transfer; she knows the landlord
committed some criminal activities and has told
the police about that. The landlord is therefore
trying to evict her. She feels very scared living
there but her choice of other housing is very
limited until her application of Indefinite Leave to
Remain is approved.
Facing the housing and immigration issues, Sumi
is under extreme stress and suffers from health
problems. She has chest pains, was admitted to
hospital and is now on twice the dosage of anti-
depressant medication.
The son is a promising student but the imminent
eviction is disrupting his education. Sumi does
not have any family here; has no money and
sometimes does not even have 'the money to
buy food'. She cannot afford a paid legal advice
service and is 'very grateful to Toynbee Hall'.
For the participants like Sumi, seeking justice
without legal aid is a journey of having sleepless
nights - feeling stressed, powerless and unable
to get on with life. This findings section will
uncover these experiences in detail. We will
also explore the participants' social support and
finally the role of Toynbee Hall in their journey of
accessing justice.
Accessing justice without legal aid: key findings
I am very, very worried, more
worried about my son than me.
Every night, he (my son) sleeps
and suddenly wakes up and
asks me: 'if the landlord wants
to kick us out, what can we
do...what is going to happen?
…if you don't go to the court
with me, I will not go to school!
(Sumi, Bangladeshi, in her 40s)
"
"
13
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
The journey: 'Can I see it through?'
According to the participants, the optimum process requires a
good case plus 'a lot of energy, a lot of confidence, belief and
obviously skills and knowledge' (Anika) to make the case.
Our survey result shows that 75% of respondents are not confident
in dealing with information on their own. Comparing different
age groups, older people (over 60) tend to be less confident. In
addition, 57% of participants have insufficient knowledge of the
law. Having poor English skills, little or no education and other
multiple issues to deal with in their life could make people less able
to act on their own. Sometimes the case outcomes could also be
affected by people's emotional attachment in arguing the case as
noted by some interviewees. These barriers could therefore bias
the system and produce negative outcomes for them.
Considering over half (53%) of the survey respondents had
to perform some tasks on their case (such as writing a letter,
completing court papers and negotiating with the other side),
people are not well equipped to deal with the case by themselves
and are understandably vulnerable. Not surprisingly most people
involved in this research described the justice seeking process
as 'stressful' (Roy, Rosi, Anika, Sumi, Apple, Tony and Peter),
'emotional' (Roy, Rosi, Anika, Esther and Apple) and 'daunting'
(Rosi, Anika, Apple and Peter).
The process of trying to find affordable legal advice could
also add stress. 34% of our survey respondents did not really
understand what legal aid was. For those who received legal aid
in the past, some are shocked to find that they are not eligible
anymore. Without legal aid, only 42% of respondents would
consider representing themselves in court. As there are so many
confusing, scary, frustrating or emotional roller-coaster steps,
several interviewees indeed mentioned feeling like giving up at any
moment. As Anika recalled:
You think 'can I see it through?'
because it's so draining.
(Anika)
"
"
14
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Anika is a very switched on, capable and
articulate lady. Her case was unfair dismissal
and race religious discrimination. She did her
own casework, whereas her ex-employers had
solicitors. At the pre-hearing:
Understandably, many interviewees did not know
how to respond to the other side's actions and
letters, nor the correct steps for legal procedure
and legal terms. On top of this, emotions, nerves,
inexperience plus no specialist legal knowledge
hinder best presentation of their case.
Another respondent, Tony, who was not entitled to
legal aid, was overruled by a judge who assumed
that he was because he received benefits. He
felt the judge 'cut him off' and that he 'could not
argue'. Tony said:
The judge didn't listen to me but
I'm sure they would listen to
my representative.
(Tony)
The judge asked me a question which I misinterpreted because
sometime it felt like they were speaking a different language.
I said 'Sir I misunderstood your question earlier on …Could I have
the chance to explain myself'? …He did not give me one single,
one chance to explain myself.
This is the same judge who did not take any action when the
respondents side breached about five orders …He didn't take any
action against them …He saw the vulnerability in me - he saw I'm
not legally represented.
It was almost like they (the ex-employer) got rewarded for
breaching the orders.
(Anika)
Anika strongly feels a power imbalance as the
other side was represented and she was not. She
feels vulnerable that the other side and the judge
could just 'ignore her'.
Imbalance of power: 'They can do it and get away with it '
15
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
As a result of the power imbalance and
vulnerability, some respondents suggest
that opponent lawyers ride roughshod, use
scare tactics or try to delay and frustrate the
proceedings to wear them down. Peter, who
works as a nurse, was served a Section 21 by
his landlord despite the property being in disrepair
and the deposit unprotected. He then sought
advice and was told that the Section 21 was
not valid. Peter also received a bailiff document
stating the landlord had a claim against him for
over eight thousand pounds. This was dismissed
as a 'clerical error' when Peter questioned it.
Some respondents therefore feel they would lose
their case on skill and wealth, and not merit. As
Linda noted here:
I am not educated,
my English is not good
and I don't understand
legal language …So I can
represent myself but
I can't win the case …
lost my case as I had
no proper legal help.
(Linda)
The legal aid reforms seem to redefine what
justice is for the participants, with 48% of survey
respondents found the legal process unfair to
some extent. It is also important to note that the
sample of this study includes only people who
found free legal advice or at least sought it to
some degree. So it is hard to gauge how many
people do not even try to seek justice or give up
at the first hurdle.
Our participants' narratives suggest that feeling
there is no help could sometimes mean that
they decide not to pursue their case. As Rosi, a
Black Caribbean woman in her 20s, said, 'I have
felt I will just leave it'. Hence, legal aid cuts may
mean that unlawful treatment by landlord, partners
and employers could increase as victims have
little recourse without legal aid and are relatively
powerless.
This is the concern for participants like Esther,
a mother of a disabled child who was abused
by her ex-husband. Esther did not report his
domestic violence as she did not want him to
have a criminal record and in her culture, as she
suggests, 'we don't involve police in relationships
matters'. Without the required evidence, she
is therefore not eligible for legal aid like many
others - a large proportion of victims of domestic
violence who do not have the evidence required
as noted by the House of Commons (2015).
Without legal aid, Esther said:
They (people like
my ex-husband)
can do it and
get away with it.
(Esther, Black African,
in her 30s)
16
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
In addition to the power imbalance and
unfairness, many participants experience other
knock-on effects of legal aid cuts. These could
have direct and indirect costs to individuals, their
families and society as a whole. Such costs seem
to suggest that the legal aid cuts do not 'deliver
better overall value for money for the taxpayer'
(House of Commons, 2015:3) as identified by the
Ministry of Justice as an objective for the reforms.
A key theme highlighted in both survey and
interviews is the mental impacts from the lack
of legal support. Our survey shows that 78%
of respondents are often anxious and worried.
This suggests a mental health issue among the
participants and such issue was identified by
a majority of males (78%) and females (78.5%)
across all ages and ethnicities in our survey.
Some interviewees talked about
having sleepless nights:
(It affects me) a lot. But I
don't just let it out because
I have to be there, strong
for my kids. It's giving me
sleepless nights.
(Esther,Black African, in her 30s)
Mental and physical problems lead to more GP
and hospital visits and medication. Many like Sumi
have to get depression medication more often
and some suffer from physical illness.
An alcoholic's recovery has been threatened in
the process of trying to divorce his wife. As he
said,
I've lost my appetite. I feel like
having a xxx drink and I'm a xxx
addict. It doesn't help when
these things can trigger you
to have relapses.
(Tony, Black Caribbean, in his 50s)
Some also find themselves in need of extra
support from other professionals outside the law.
In Sumi's case, a support worker accompanied
her to court as English is not her first language
and she felt vulnerable.
A common feeling of seeking justice without
sufficient legal support is the inability to get on
with life. People find themselves less equipped to
function as a parent and in work, with a negative
impact on their children and family.
Roy was a carer for his bipolar wife until she
accused him of domestic violence:
Same issue happened in 2009
...When she's high then everyone
is her enemy, when she's down the
first thing she'll say is 'where's my
husband gone' …Lots of men …
do hit women. Because of that,
the stigmatism is there …And lots
of men they suffer and they don't
want to say 'oh my wife is hitting
me' - the egotism….
They (the court) should have
looked at it properly.
(Roy, Bangladeshi, in his 30s)
The costs: 'How they are saving money, I have no idea'
17
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
As the primary carer for his children, Roy has
not been able to see them because he could
not afford to go to court to fight the case.
This has also affected the children's everyday
life and 'emotional development':
There are problems with
that - because they're not
seeing their dad …I'm always
worried ... I did find out since
I left, they don't go (for activities)
because she can't take them
to the park for cycling or to
the activity centre.
(Roy)
Roy dropped his studies and is too depressed
to look for work. He has fallen into debt because
his Carer's Allowance stopped and he had to
borrow money to see 'the cheapest solicitor'.
He is homeless, living in a hostel with nowhere
suitable to prepare food. Fighting the legal
problem without much help has created various
other problems. So as Roy said:
The fact I'm not seeing my
kids means I can't move
on with my life.
They (the government) want to
save money, but the person who
is suffering this, they are getting
depressed, they go to benefits.
How they (the government) are
saving money, I have no idea.
(Roy)
Along with individual health issues and possible
social problems, there are indications that legal
processes could take longer and there could be
extra court administration time and costs. Tony,
for example, filled in forms incorrectly which
delayed the process:
For the first court they say I didn't fill the form in
properly and they kept sending it back. Then
when I went there last Thursday and Friday they
said you still haven't done it right (Tony)
A litigant in person (who named herself as
Apple) had to wait six months to find a specialist
barrister. Tony and Apple's examples suggest that
cases could take longer to settle without legal aid,
which echoes predictions of Bevan (2013) and
Bennett (2014).
"You don't know what
tomorrow will bring
…You live in doubt."
(Peter, White British, lives in North London)
18
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Finding help: 'Trust me I've been everywhere'
Sample size 100
3 Main support: information & advice
A free legal advice service (73%)
A paid legal advice service (3%)
Government sector (2%)
The internet (6%)
Family and friends (9%)
Other (7%)
No one (1%)
As well as accessing the impact of legal aid cuts
on people's lived experiences, we also explored
how and where people manage to get support.
As noted by interviewee Apple, 'trust me I've
been everywhere', people use various sources of
support including free legal advice services, paid
legal advice services, family and friends, internet
and so on. In the survey, we asked people where
they ask for information and advice, where they
confide their worries in, and among the various
sources of support what their main support is.
The survey result shows that 73% of respondents
consider free legal advice services as their main
support for information and advice (Figure 3).
Nearly half of the respondents get information and
advice from internet (45%) and family and friends
(42%) at some stage although not many of them
consider these channels as the main support.
This suggests that accuracy and sufficiency of
information from internet and family and friends
are crucial.
19
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
In terms of whom they confide their worries in,
4% of respondents stated that they had no one
to speak to and over half (66%) rely on one or
two sources of confidence (Figure 4). 84% of
respondents go to their family and friends to
confide their worries in (Figure 5). Surprisingly,
free legal advice service is the second most often
used support (used by 79% of respondents)
and considered by over half (61%) of the
respondents as their main support. This highlights
the emotional support provided by legal advice
services which will be discussed later.
4 Sources of confidence (sample size 100)
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
100%
80%
60%
40%
20%
0%
5 Who do you confide your worries in? (sample size 100)
No one
4%
No one
4%
A free legal
advice service
79%
A paid legal
advice service
17%
Government
sector
14%
The internet
19%
Family & friends
84%
Work colleague
or neighbour
14%
Other
1%
1-2 sources
66%
3-4 sources
22%
5+ sources
8%
'73% of
respondents
consider free legal
advice services
as their main support
for information
and advice'
20
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
There is a slight gender difference in the use
of emotional support from free legal advice
providers. More females (84% of females) than
males (74% of males) tend to confide their
worries in free legal advice providers. It is also
important to note that 7% of male respondents,
compared with 2% of female participants, have
no one to confide their worries in. These gender
differences imply that sometimes men could have
fewer resources for emotional support. Based
on our small sample of older people, it suggests
that people over 60 mostly (80%) rely on free
legal advice providers for emotional support and
receive no support from friends or neighbours
when dealing with their legal case. Further
research with a bigger sample would be needed
to investigate the emotional support for older
people.
It is worth noting that having someone to support
an individual does not mean that they are always
available and that they provide strong support. As
interviewee Linda suggests, '(I have) just friends,
but friends don't want to hear too much about
your problem, so I went to GP as well and took
medication'.
With cut backs it is likely that more complicated
and thus longer lasting disputes will have to be
paid for. Our interviewees' experiences tell us that
most of those paying a solicitor can only afford
the bare minimum advice or process. Given that
most have to choose from the cheapest solicitors,
we could question whether they may be driven
to lesser quality paid legal advice and sometimes
unsustainable practices.
Considering the possible quality of service from
paid legal advice providers and the added benefit
of emotional support from free legal advice
providers, there is therefore a big difference in
the participants' average satisfaction on paid and
free legal advice services (as shown in Figure 6).
The graph also suggests that people may have to
look hard to find appropriate help especially when
more pro bono services are closing. One of our
interviewees Anika directly experienced this as her
source of help dried up when they made cuts to
the free legal advice centre who was helping her.
6 How much have the following helped to resolve your legal issues
(sample size 100)
Very much
Quite a bit
Somewhat
A litle bit
Toynbee Hall
Free legal
advice services
Paid legal
advice services
Personal
networks
21
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
As indicated in Figure 6, Toynbee Hall's Free
Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) is very positively
viewed.
According to interviewee Apple:
This (FLAC) is really completely
unique ...totally unique. You don't
have a catchment area so you're
not chucking me away and saying
you don't live in Whitechapel so
we don't want to see you and
you seem to cover civil litigation
means you cover everything.
(Apple, in her 50s)
Apple is a single woman living in Hackney.
She has an asset (a house) but no salary as
she is unable to work for medical reasons.
She therefore has absolutely no means to pay
for legal advice and assistance.
Talking about Toynbee Hall, she said:
I wish I'd have found Toynbee Hall
a year ago ...I wouldn't have waited
six months to see a barrister
would I? …I waited less than a
week to see a barrister here.
(Apple)
While we accept awareness will inevitably be
high with Toynbee Hall's FLAC users, our data
suggests such awareness is widespread and not
restricted to our own locality. A survey respondent
for instance noted that 'I came for (advice) the first
time in the 70s; came here since then for different
matters'. Another participant said that 'my relative
in Tower Hamlets, they don't know if Toynbee
Hall can help or not, but still they think "let's go
to Toynbee Hall" or someone else will tell them
to go'. Toynbee Hall's clients largely come from
Tower Hamlets and neighbouring boroughs, but
people living in other parts of London and outside
London also come to Toynbee Hall to seek
advice. FLAC clients' location of residence
is shown in Figure 7 based on a sample of
1494 clients.
Free Legal Advice Centre:'An oasis in the desert'
22
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
0
1 - 5
6 - 15
16 - 33
34 - 64
As shown in Figure 8, the largest referral to FLAC is from a free legal advice service
(38%) which is often the Citizen Advice Bureau. Toynbee Hall's recent evaluation
suggests that nearly half (45%) of Toynbee Hall clients were referred or signposted
by the Citizen Advice Bureau. In contrast, only a single case came from a paid
legal advice service. There were frequent person-to-person referrals (27%), through
friends, family and work colleagues.
8 How did you find out about Toynbee Hall? (sample size 100)
40%
35%
30%
25%
20%
15%
10%
5%
0%
Free legal
advice
service (38%)
Government
agency
(15%)
Paid legal
advice
service
(1%)
Other
organisation
(3%)
Internet
(15%)
Local
knowledge
(2%)
Person (27%)
Previous
attendance
(9%)
7 FLAC clients location of residence (by London Ward*)
* The map shows ward boundaries with the exception of the City of London.
(Sample size: 1494)
Number of clients
23
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Since 2014, Toynbee Hall started an Initial
Assessment service so that anyone may drop
in to Toynbee Hall and be seen by a volunteer
assessor, before being made an appointment
internally (the majority made with FLAC) or
referred externally to an alternative provider. Our
recent evaluation on this service shows that
with a wide coverage of law areas, Toynbee Hall
supports clients with mostly housing, benefits,
employment, family and debt issues (Figure 9)
and this correlates to the areas in which legal aid
has been cut.
Feedback from the participants also suggests
that the Initial Assessment Service is highly
appreciated. According to Esther:
They saw me straight away. …
Walk in - is very good. When
something is 'boiling' (you) have
instant (help) there.
(Esther)
Overwhelmingly, a FLAC volunteer advisor in the
interviewees' eyes is not just a lawyer, but also a
friend and counsellor. Many are very dependent
on FLAC, describing the service as their 'only
hope' (Sumi) and 'an oasis in the desert' (Apple).
'They kept my fighting spirit up' (Anika) and
without it, 'a lot of problems, matters would go
under the carpet' (Peter). Such role for providing
emotional support is consistent with the survey
result of free legal advice service being the main
support to confide their worries in.
*Debt figure does not include all of Toynbee Hall's Capitalise Debt Advice service users
9 Types of cases? (sample size 807)
40%
35%
30%
25%
20%
15%
10%
5%
0%
Civil Lit
(12%)
Consumer
(8%)
Debt* (17%)
Employment
(21%)
Family (18%)
Housing
(36%)
Welfare
benefit
(23%)
Rights &
discrimination
(1%)
Other (4%)
24
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Toynbee Hall staff are almost unanimously praised
as very 'friendly' (Alberto, Esther, Sumi and Apple),
'supportive' (Roy, Rosi, Esther, Anika, Sumi,
Peter), 'experienced' (Peter) and 'to your level'
(Anika). The place of Toynbee Hall seems to be
viewed as a refuge that 'feels relaxed … calm
…not pressurised at all' (Apple). One even 'looks
forward' (Peter) to going to Toynbee Hall:
I know that somehow no matter
what shape it takes I will
get some help and advice
and get the help I really want.
(Peter)
In our interviews, we asked people what they
would like FLAC to improve. Most are very happy
with the services Toynbee Hall provides, but many
wish it was able to help more. Due to the limited
resources, FLAC is not always equipped to
deal with every case especially longer and more
complex cases, and FLAC advisors are unable to
represent clients in court or other legal hearings.
So commonly, participants hope that Toynbee
Hall can represent them, do more casework and
have more advisors. Representation was most
often mentioned. As Sumi explained,
People like me, the helpless
people, would really benefit
from your representation
(Sumi)
'One even
'looks forward'
to going to
Toynbee Hall'
25
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
Recommendations
Based on the findings summarised in the previous sections,
the following recommendations have been identified:
• The research findings suggest that the knock-on effects of
legal and cuts have direct and indirect costs to individuals,
their families and society as a whole.
• More legal support needs to be in place for people who
cannot afford to pay for legal advice. An obvious option
would be to re-establish a wider legal aid programme.
Although legal aid continues to be available in some cases
in limited conditions, such as family cases where domestic
violence is involved and housing cases where there is a
risk of losing their home, it is not available in the majority of
cases and case matter types, meaning the current scheme
is inadequate. The negative impacts highlighted are not
exclusive to these particular cases therefore support needs
to be widened to include more case types, especially those
highlighted as common issues, for those who are socio-
economically vulnerable.
• More funding needs to be available for free legal advice
agencies, particularly for legal representation. This is crucial
to ensure fairness and justice but it is not often available
within current resources.
• Support structures need to be established alongside legal
advice, particularly with regards to possible impacts on
mental health. Legal advice providers could establish links to
existing support services. Given the possible impact on the
service user, a legal advice agency would be an appropriate
outreach venue for such services.'
• Past service users can be encouraged to volunteer at
advice agencies or simply share their experiences and
provide general support. Another option to consider is a
volunteering programme with, for example, social work
students to provide additional emotional support for service
users. These provide the much needed support without
greatly increased cost.
• Further research is needed especially a larger-scale
assessment of the impact of legal aid cuts on individuals.
26
Sleepless nights: accessing justice without legal aid
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