Legal aid cuts set to fuel youth crime
Tuesday 8th November 2011
A group of leading charities has today (7th November) warned that planned cuts to civil legal aid will fuel youth crime and leave young victims of crime unprotected, calling on the Government to join up their civil and criminal justice policies.
In new research released today by the JustRights coalition, leading legal academic Professor Pascoe Pleasence reveals for the first time clear links between young people’s civil justice problems and crime.
Young victims of crime and young people at risk of offending are likely to be disproportionately hit by swingeing cuts to advice services. The research shows that as many as 55% of young people who had recently been arrested and 63% of young victims of crime had also experienced a civil justice problem.
Official Government figures, revealed after a Freedom of Information request, confirm that The Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill, due to enter the House of Lords later this month, will lead to 75,000 children and young people losing entitlement to civil legal aid each year. Included in these figures are over 25,000 social welfare cases relating to housing, debt, employment and welfare benefits – problems which are known to substantially increase the risk of re-offending, homelessness and mental health problems if left unresolved.
The cuts to legal aid come on top of the dismantling of Connexions and massive cuts to local voluntary sector youth advice services. They threaten to leave young people with nowhere to turn for advice and no legal representation if their cases reach a hearing.
JustRights is concerned that the Government has failed to fully analyse the knock-on costs for the criminal justice system resulting from the proposed cuts to civil legal aid. Although the Government’s own impact assessment identified that the proposals could lead to increased criminality, reduced social cohesion and increased spending for other Departments, it has refused to provide any costings.
The current cost of providing advice to the 25,840 children and young people who will lose entitlement to social welfare legal aid each year is less than £6m – equivalent to the cost of imprisoning just 42 young offenders. Direct costs to the Ministry of Justice itself would rise by more than this sum if just one in every 445 of those young people who are denied civil legal aid end up in prison as a result. JustRights believes this reveals a lack of coherence in the Government’s justice policies.