1 July 2011
Proposals to radically cut legal aid will now be considered by a Public Bill Committee, after a second reading of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday (29 June).
The Bill was published on 21 June together with the Government’s response to a consultation about plans to cut legal aid in England and Wales by £350 million in 2014/15.
The Law Society has called it “the single biggest attack on access to justice since the legal aid system was introduced.”
Legal aid is a scheme which helps people to pay for legal advice on some matters, depending on their financial circumstances. General information may be found on the Direct.gov website.
The Disability Alliance says, “The Bill removes legal aid from cases concerning employment, housing (except in cases involving homelessness or risk to health and safety), debt (except in cases relating to certain proceedings where the home is at risk), and welfare benefits.”
Writing on their website, Save Legal Aid, Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) say, “The Government received over 5,000 responses to its original plans. The majority of respondents opposed the reforms. Despite this overwhelming negative response, the Government has decided to press ahead with its original proposals, almost wholly unchanged.
“The legal aid bill, if it becomes law, will wipe out legal aid for welfare benefits appeals, immigration applications, child contact and residence disputes, clinical negligence claims, employment disputes, and a substantial number of housing and debt cases.
“The bill will also take away a person’s ability to choose which solicitor or adviser they instruct, whilst introducing a mandatory telephone advice service (in place of going to see a lawyer in person) for the most vulnerable people in Special Educational Needs cases, discrimination claims and community care work.
“At the same time the financial eligibility criteria for civil legal aid will become more stringent. This will further increase the gap between those who can afford a lawyer and those who cannot.”
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke, believes the current legal aid system is unaffordable, saying it costs £39 per head in this country each year, compared with £8 in New Zealand.
The deadline for submitting written evidence to the Public Bill Committee is Thursday 13 October.