DURING an interview this week, I heard a sentiment expressed that is becoming all too familiar – that access to justice had been hindered by the inability to afford it.

Woven into the many stories I hear are too many tales that smack of systematic inequality, tales that bring with them regular reminders that money matters when it comes to the judicial system, a system an increasing number of people are simply being priced out of.

There can be found anger in the asides that accompany often heart-wrenching recollections of legal battles, expressed by those who have been made vulnerable, rendered desperate, by circumstances often beyond their control. Far too many people are emerging from courtrooms weighted with burdens of debt accumulated as a result of daring to set out upon an unpredictable and difficult to navigate path that may or may not lead to justice.

Experts have warned that the costs associated with litigation of any kind are putting a price on justice too few can afford and the evidence is clear.

There is a widening and deeply unfair gulf between the experiences of those who have and those who have not, when it comes to having voices adequately represented in a courtroom. And there are growing numbers giving up before the courtroom is even reached, the prospect of voluntarily choosing to take on the financial and emotional pressures of a tribunal or similar so daunting that many will have no choice but to abandon their hopes of seeking justice at the first hurdle, no matter how wronged they feel.

I’ve reported from the press bench of courts around the North-East, covering cases of all kinds, from criminal to civil, tribunals to family hearings. It is plain to see that the prohibitive costs of representation, considered alongside stark legal aid cuts, court fees, slashed CPS budgets and spreading court closures are conspiring to create a society in which justice from all corners is becoming increasingly inaccessible. And the odds are undeniably stacked against those less privileged. I’ve seen people with chaotic lifestyles and zero income forced to navigate public transport to attend courts several miles away for hearings that once happened on their doorstep, with warrants regularly issued for those not making it in time. I’ve known single parents and estranged spouses pay through their noses out of stretched budgets to protect their families, to battle abuse and custody issues in the family courts. I’ve met workers who feel they were unfairly dismissed and heard them say they cannot afford to fight for their reputation and I’ve watched individuals and companies triumph simply because they can afford to be better represented than those who must represent themselves.

All of this before even beginning to discuss the abject unfairness that allows rich people to shroud their activities in an otherwise unattainable secrecy borne of deep pockets, to gag the press and keep the public in the dark via non-disclosure agreements and injunctions most of us would never have the luxury of opting for.

There is huge and seemingly growing inequality within our legal system and it means that access to justice is becoming increasingly the province of the rich, to the absolute detriment of the poor.