I mentioned in a post the other day how legal aid was not introduced in this country until 1949. Although technically correct, I made the mistake of commenting on the subject of legal aid without first consulting with legal aid expert Murray Heining.
He advises that this is what the Costs Lawyer training materials have to say on the subject:
“In forma pauperis
In 1488 the first legislation providing for Legal Aid was introduced in Scotland. Legislation in England followed 7 years later with the Poor Persons Act (11 Hen.7, C12). By this Act:
• the poor were not charged fees on the issue of writs;
• clerks, counsel and attorneys were assigned to prepare writs on their behalf without charge; and
• for hearings of writs counsel were assigned to act without charge.
In 1531 a statute (Hen. 8, C15) was introduced removing the liability of poor persons for the costs of a successful opponent. However, courts could order their punishment for non-payment of costs. This could and did include corporal punishment and imprisonment. The act was repealed in the 19th Century. Throughout the 19th Century substantially the only official assistance given to the poor man to help his access to the civil courts was by an in forma pauperis procedure and only in the superior courts. The Civil Procedure Act 1883 and accompanying rules made provision for Legal Aid to be granted by courts. In the early 20th Century a poor persons’ procedure was introduced by the Rules of the Supreme Court (Poor Persons) 1913 and was extended by the Rules of the Supreme Court (Poor Persons) 1914. These rules were amended from time to time. They enabled the poor to obtain the free services of solicitors and counsel in the High Court. The rules did not extend to the county courts and did not cover civil cases in magistrates’ courts. (Even with the introduction of Legal Aid proper in 1949 there was until 1960 only limited Legal Aid for appeals to the House of Lords by the Appeal (Forma Pauperis Act 1893). Although pro bono services were provided by some solicitors and counsel it was very difficult for the poor to find solicitors willing to provide legal assistance. There were “poor man’s” organisations providing legal services. These were mainly in London and in the major cities. The ability to access a solicitor or barrister was much restricted. In 12 out of 50 provisional towns with populations of over 100,000 there existed a “poor man’s” organisation. In the other 28 there was no such provision.”
I may be none the wiser, but at least I have learnt something new.