It has been said by some that, "justice can be bought". That is to say that, if one has the money, one can hire the best lawyers and oftentimes receive a better result than a poor man might. While this may be true, it is not in the interests of society to have favorable judgments go to the highest bidder. Indeed, if wealth were allowed to circumvent justice, the whole fabric of our liberal society would unravel.
All men, regardless of how poor they are, have the right to access to the justice they might find in the courts. If we deny them that access, we deny them their justice.

The fact is though, the access to justice costs money. Therefore, society must bear the cost of aiding the poor in their quest for justice. In the UK, we have a long tradition of legal aid to the poor, which subsidizes this quest. In the past, legal aid was provided by the legal profession of a charity basis (Bailey, 1996, page 568). As time went on and the workload increased, the legal profession could not cope with the volume of work. In 1949, the Legal Aid and Advice Act was passed. This was amended in 1974 by the Legal Aid Act. Finally, in order to further streamline the whole process of providing aid, the 1988 Legal Aid Act was passed. This act remains in place until today.

There has been continuing pressure to provide more access to the justice system. At the same time, there have been concerns about fiscal restraint. A great deal of controversy has resulted from the clash between these two opposing positions. At the same time, there have been questions raised about the efficiency of the legal aid system.

Like any resource, inefficiency and mismanagement may squander legal aid money. This would impact very badly on society. Either, the cost of justice would rise steeply, or fewer people would be able to use the courts to seek justice. This begs the question therefore; in what way can these financial resources be used to get the best benefit?

I shall discuss the present state of the legal aid system, both criminal and civil, review the latest proposals for reform, and discuss whether or not the Legal Aid system is living up to it's mandate. My discussion will focus on some (but certainly not all) of the new proposals.

Civil Legal Aid

The present criteria for access to civil legal aid are as follows; reasonableness, merit, and means.
To begin with, I will discuss the criteria of reasonableness. Legal aid is likely to be refused on the grounds that it is not reasonable to grant it. For example if the client could get assistance from a trade union, or if the client could not hope to benefit from a favorable judgment, then assistance would be denied. In this way, public money is not pointlessly squandered. (Bailey, 1996, pg. 570)

The case must also meet the criteria of having merit. This is to say that weak and hopeless cases should not subsidized with public money. If someone has a petty vendetta or a bone to pick, they should not be able to use Legal Aid money to do it.

Below is a quote showing present financial limits and levels of eligibility for those applying for legal aid.
"People qualify for non-contributory civil legal aid if their disposable capital is 3,000, or less, and their annual disposable income is 2,563 or less. Applicants who receive income support and income based job seekers allowance automatically qualify financially for civil legal aid without having to pay a contribution. If their income is between 2,563 and 7,595, or 8,370 in the case of personal injury claims, they are required to pay a contribution of one thirty-sixth of the excess of their disposable income above 2,563 for each month during the life of the case (eg: if disposable income is 4,003, the contribution [4003-2563 divided by 36] is 40, for each month during the life of the case)." ((www.open.gov.uk/lcd/laid/ leg-aid.htm)

Assessment of Resource Regulations determine where the lines are drawn regarding eligibility. According to these regulations, the lines can be moved quite easily, and trends seem to indicate that it is more and more difficult to qualify for aid. . For example, in 1993,