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Home » Law » Reform of legal aid in England and Wales: the Government response, June 2011

Reform of legal aid in England and Wales: the Government response, June 2011

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

This is what two of the broadsheets said today.

Jack Dromey in the Guardian:

The vital advice provided by these specialists in social welfare law has helped many of the families and individuals that I see to avoid costly litigation and prevent or mitigate the effects of marital and family breakdown.

Over 650,000 people, at recent estimates, and half a million according to the Ministry of Justice’s own impact assessment, will lose out on this vital help through changes to legal aid alone, at a time where other funding streams for free advice have already been cut or are under threat. About 6,500 social welfare law cases will no longer be funded in Birmingham. Liverpool will see about 9,800 cases cut. Each of these represents a loss of specialist help at a time when it is most needed.

Legal aid funding is being withdrawn from all employment advice, all welfare benefits advice and virtually all debt advice, nearly half of housing advice and nearly all of education advice. There can only be one outcome: avoidable poverty and distress for many thousands of people.

Not only will people be less likely to receive advice, but advice will be harder to find as agencies currently funded through legal aid find it more and more difficult to carry on. For example, the average impact on individual, not-for-profit providers of the cuts being proposed will be a 92% drop in income from legal aid.

Wesley Johnson in the Independent:

Vast swathes of the British population will be barred from accessing publicly-funded legal advice and representation following Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s decision to press ahead with reforms, campaigners said.

Legal aid “will no longer routinely be available for most private family law cases, clinical negligence, employment, immigration, some debt and housing issues, some education cases, and welfare benefits”, Mr Clarke said.

The moves will put publicly-funded legal advice and representation “beyond the reach of vast swathes of the British population”, the civil rights group Liberty said.

Mr Clarke said they will still be able to use “alternative, less adversarial means of resolving their problems” and insisted that “fundamental rights to access to justice will be protected”.

But Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said the moves were a “slap in the face” for “ordinary families, children and the disabled”.

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