What is the use of a highly developed legal system if an ordinary citizen has no access to the law?
In the summer of 1999, all the members of the British Parliament were listening to a bill. The speaker of the bill was the then Speaker of the British House of Lords (House of Lords) and Justice Minister Lord Justice Erwin Ragge. The bill Known as the “Approaching Justice Act”. At first glance, everyone will not have a clear understanding of the content of this bill, but the content of the bill is a judicial system that has been extended in the United Kingdom for centuries – the legal aid system.
The legal aid system has become a judicial system generally recognized by all countries in the world. As the birthplace of this system, Britain has many experiences and lessons in its development process that we should learn and reflect on.
The formation of the British legal aid system has gone through a long process. The origin of the system can be traced back to the 40th article of the Magna Carta of Liberty in 1215, which stipulates that the rest shall not be sold to anyone, refused, or postponed their entitlement and fair judgment. Although the article does not expressly express legal aid, it provides the basis for legal aid. This provision of Magna Carta is seen as the embryo of the legal aid system. Subsequently, during the reign of Henry III (1207-1272) and for the next two centuries, legal aid existed only as a charitable act of lawyers and was not given sufficient attention. Until 1494, an act enacted by Henry VII of the Tudor Dynasty stipulated that justice should be equally given to the poor, and lawyers appointed according to the principles of justice should equally serve the poor. In 1531, Henry VIII made a new Act, which further confirmed the legal aid system. So far, the legal aid system has become a political right of the British and has been recognized and protected by law.
In the middle of the 19th century, the social structure of Britain had undergone great changes, and the old legal aid system had not adapted to the needs of the new situation. Therefore, the British Parliament passed the Statutory Amendment in 1883, abolishing the original legal aid system and establishing a new legal aid system. However, because the act was difficult to operate and the interests of the poor were not effectively protected, the British Parliament promulgated the Poor Procedures Act in 1914. In addition, in 1903, the British Parliament passed the Poor Prisoners Defence Act, which was further revised and improved.
After the Second World War, the United Kingdom claimed to provide its citizens with a full range of services from “cradle to grave”, and the legal aid system has also become one of the service items. Therefore, since 1949, the United Kingdom has promulgated a series of laws to improve and make up for the deficiencies of the previous legal aid system, making it perfect day by day. Such as Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 << Legal Advice and Help Act 1972 (also known as Green Scheme), Legal Aid Act 1974, Legal Aid Act 1988 and Civil Legal Aid (General) 1989 Rules and what is seen as the culmination of legal aid reform in the UK, the Access to Justice Act 1999. The formulation and promulgation of these laws marked that legal aid was no longer a political right of citizens, but a welfare system provided by the government for citizens. The formation and improvement of the British legal aid system also took a long time and was completed in many aspects. For example, the issue of legal aid recipients. In the early days of England, the object of legal aid was mainly the poor (the poor). Both the 1494 Act and the 1531 Act have strict controls on recipients of aid, requiring an annual income of less than £5. And only plaintiffs are eligible for assistance, and defendants are excluded. In the mid-19th century, the British national income increased greatly, so new rules were formulated in the Statutes Amendments of 1883: Anyone who earned less than £25 a year could get legal aid. In addition, the defendant is also included in the scope of the aid object. The Poor People's Procedures Act 1914 further expanded the scope of legal aid objects: anyone with an annual income of less than £50 can enjoy legal aid; in some special cases, the object of assistance can be extended to those with an annual income of less than £100. In the modern era, legal aid follows such a principle: the scope of legal aid should extend to all families and every individual, that is, except for the extremely poor, those who can afford a certain amount of litigation costs but cannot afford all the litigation costs. There should also be a right to legal aid. The Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949 relaxed the eligibility conditions for legal aid, expanded the scope of recipients, and opened the door for low-income people to obtain legal aid. But this does not mean abandoning the standard of property to measure aid recipients. Generally, applicants for civil legal aid services are only eligible for free civil legal aid services if they meet the following financial hardship criteria: (1) monthly disposable income is less than £300; (2) disposable assets are less than £3,000 . If the applicant has a monthly disposable income of more than £300 but less than £698, or disposable assets of more than £3,000 but less than a specific cap, the applicant may, with the consent of the applicant, be entitled to share the cost of Legal aid services. Of course, legal aid applicants who are subsistence allowances, receive unemployment benefits, or are receiving other government subsidies are eligible for free civil legal aid services without a means test. The specific eligibility for criminal legal aid services is as follows: if the applicant has less than £1,000 of disposable assets and his weekly disposable income is £95, he is eligible for counselling and assistance services. It can be seen from this that the determination of the recipients of legal aid in the UK from purely income-based to not entirely based on income but based on whether or not to obtain help reflects the true meaning of legal aid: to give every citizen the opportunity to receive assistance. fair treatment of the law. Another example is the scope of legal aid. In the early days, the scope of legal aid was mainly divorce cases, and later it was gradually extended to all civil litigation cases. Criminal legal aid has also been included in the scope of legal aid since around 1883. The Poor Prisoners Defence Act of 1903 and further amendments to it later marked the formal establishment of criminal legal aid. It is worth noting that, at this time, whether it is criminal or civil legal aid, the legal aid is only provided by lawyers appearing in court. Although free out-of-court legal counseling also appeared before 1944, the legal counseling business was not officially incorporated into the state. Scope of legal aid. It was not until the introduction of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1972 that legal advice was formally established, and legal assistance and legal representation also appeared one after another and were confirmed. The scope of legal aid in the UK has gone through a process of growing from small to large, and its forms are constantly enriched. With the enhancement of human rights awareness in modern times, the idea of restricting the state's public power and protecting citizens from illegal detention and trial has become deeply rooted in the people's minds of the rule of law, and the establishment of criminal legal aid just conforms to this trend. In addition, in view of the sharpness and complexity of modern and contemporary social problems and contradictions, legal aid is also developing in depth to meet the needs of different groups of people in various forms. The guarantee of legal aid funds and effectiveness is one of the most beneficial reforms that the UK has done to improve the legal aid system. The problem it mainly addresses is that although the earliest legal aid in the UK had clear legal requirements, it was not very maneuverable. The government did not set up a fixed institution to manage legal aid-related matters, and there was no corresponding funding guarantee. So legal aid has become a kindness rather than an obligation for lawyers. Funds and effects are often proportional, and sufficient funds will ensure that there are enough interests to attract lawyers to dedicate everything to legal aid. In the early days, legal aid was not included in the scope of state finance, and each lawyer was only doing this sacred cause with his own conscience and justice. Therefore, many lawyers do everything possible to avoid assistance. Even if there are lawyers who undertake the obligation of assistance, most of them are young lawyers who have just debuted and lack experience, so they cannot complete the assistance task well, resulting in unsatisfactory results. In 1919, although the British set up a commission of inquiry to investigate this issue and came to a conclusion and pointed out the direction of reform, it did not receive the attention of the British government at that time. It was not until after 1949 that the legal aid system underwent major reforms. Under the UK's Legal Aid Act 1988, the Legal Aid Commission establishes and maintains an independent legal aid fund, largely funded by state funding, overseen by the Lord Chancellor. Legal aid funds can also be raised in other ways. One is social donations. As a social welfare undertaking, every member of society can donate legal aid funds to the Legal Aid Committee; the other is donations from recipients. If the amount of assets and assets that can be handled are within the limits required by law, then when he receives legal aid, he should donate a legal amount of money or assets to the legal aid organization according to law, as a condition for receiving aid. However, the British aid funds are increasing year by year, but the number of aid cases has not increased but decreased, resulting in low efficiency and serious waste in handling cases. To address this dilemma, the UK passed the Access to Justice Act 1999. The Act introduces a contract system and a competition mechanism. Only qualified law firms that have signed a service contract with the Legal Services Commission can undertake legal aid cases and obtain legal aid funds. In this way, the predicament of unqualified law firms or lawyers accepting cases arbitrarily for the aid of funds in the past has been eliminated, and the case handling effect was not good. Throughout the century of judicial practice in the United Kingdom, the legal aid system has been deeply rooted in the hearts of the people, and the rules and system design have become increasingly perfect. In addition to being promoted in the Commonwealth of Nations such as Canada and Hong Kong, China, even developed countries with the rule of law like Germany and the United States have followed suit.
What is the use of a highly developed legal system if an ordinary citizen has no access to the law?