Outrage over legal aid cuts

Ken Clarke is proposing cuts of £350 million to the legal aid budget
Ken Clarke is proposing cuts of £350 million to the legal aid budget

By Phil Scullion

Ken Clarke faces anger over legal aid cuts which could make justice inaccessible for 725,000 people.

The justice secretary today announced a cut of £350 million from the legal aid budget, which currently stands at over £2 billion.

This has met with vociferous objections from lawyers and campaign groups who say Mr Clarke's legal aid and sentencing bill will exclude vulnerable people from accessing legal services.

Linda Lee, president of the Law Society, said: "Mr Clarke's proposals on civil legal aid and reforms to the way civil litigation is funded will be a disaster for the public and will prevent many ordinary people – not just the poor, small businesses as well – from enforcing legitimately held rights.

"The government's own figures show that more than half a million civil law and family cases each year will lose legal aid," she added.

In his foreword to the bill Mr Clarke states the aim of avoiding "unnecessary" litigation at public expense, including cases dealing with private family law, employment, and welfare benefits.

The Unite union accused the coalition of displaying "raw cruelty and cynicism" by claiming that "we are all in this together".

Sally Kosky, Unite officer, said: "Because of the current austerity measures which will cause joblessness, repossession of homes and relationship breakdowns, everyone has an interest in a strong legal advice system.

"It could, unfortunately, be any of us that suddenly find ourselves in a moment of need. They are taking with one hand and using the other to silence the voices of the disenfranchised, the weak and the desperate."

The Consumer Justice Alliance (CJA) has also condemned the changes, which it said will place unfair constraints on victims whilst placing no such limitations on large insurance firms and government bodies.

Nigel Muers-Raby, chairman of the CJA, criticised the "dangerous and sweeping" reforms contained and warned against allowing the changes to legal aid to be "buried in the bill".

He continued: "Thousands of injured people will suffer as a result of what is being proposed today – the door to justice is effectively being slammed in their faces.

"Every day across the country, victims of accidents or negligence have to confront a future in the face of life-changing injuries. The bill threatens their ability to seek proper legal representation and to receive the compensation they need to begin to rebuild their lives."

However Mr Clarke doggedly defended his changes, saying that they protect the "fundamental rights of access to justice" and branding the current legal aid system as "unaffordable".

He said: "The system is now among the most expensive in the world, costing over £2 billion a year.

"England and Wales spends an average of £39 per head of population on legal aid compared with £8 per head in New Zealand, a country with a comparable legal system."


Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.