The Bar Council has published a video on the tragic story of Nicholas Harry’s struggle to fund legal representation for the inquest into the death of his 19-month old son, Sam, as part of a series on real-life examples of hardship caused by legal aid cuts.
Sam was killed either by his mother or his mother’s partner in 2013. Harry had earlier sold his house and taken out a loan in order to fund his legal case for custody (also removed from scope of legal aid funding in 2013), fearing his son was in danger, but was unsuccessful. A prosecution was unsuccessful, so Harry felt the inquest was his only chance to get answers. He again borrowed money to pay a lawyer. In the video, he says: ‘Without a solicitor, I’d still be thinking to this day, “what didn’t I ask?”’
Another video tells the story of Mary-Ellen, a nurse and homeowner forced to stop work in 1994 due to a debilitating health condition, whose care package was unlawfully cut from 12 hours to two hours. Prior to April 2013, she would have been eligible for legal aid as benefits are her only income but the enactment of LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) meant the value of her home was taken into consideration, pushing her over the threshold. She could either sell her (specially adapted) home or access justice. Her solicitor agreed to act for free.
The videos are part of a series by the Bar Council and media platform openDemocracy showing the cruel realities of LASPO on openDemocracy’s Voices for Justice pages this month. The project includes interviews with charity workers and MPs such as Bob Neill and Bambos Charalambous and addresses a range of issues including custody disputes, disability rights and benefits, homelessness, Windrush and early legal advice.
LASPO removed legal aid from vast swathes of civil law, including inquests, private family law, benefits law, housing and employment. The government is due to hold its long-awaited review of the legislation this year. Last summer, it consulted on providing legal aid for inquest proceedings where the state is involved.
Online stories show cruel realities of life without legal aid