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Legal Aid Budget Debate

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In early 2010 that the Government announced a 25 percent cut to expenditure in many of its departments including the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). In order to achieve these aims the MOJ would have to make significant cut backs to many areas but most importantly would have to address the issue of Legal Aid costs.

A Government consultation paper in 2011 proposed to save £350 million by 2014 – 2015. The paper focused on cuts to the scope of Civil Legal Aid by reducing the number of eligible clients as well as cutting solicitors fees.

The Law Society believed these cuts were short sighted and unlikely to deliver the savings that the MJO intended. The Law Society highlighted the following areas of law that will be affected by such proposed measures.

  • Disputes between separated parents: It is accepted that in an ideal situation there would be no need for litigation. However, this is not always possible. Under the 2011 proposals, only cases where there has been alleged domestic violence will Legal Aid be granted. It is argued that such cuts may lead to parties taking the law into their own hands as well as delaying the justice system due to legally inexperienced litigants representing themselves.
  • Clinical negligence: These types of cases are often highly complex and require the expertise of a professional. It is likely that litigation will not be pursued as applicants do not have the required knowledge to put forward a successful case which in turn allows negligent doctors to escape liability.
  • Housing disrepair: The Law Society states that many cases could be left unresolved until the state of the property is in such a condition that it affects the client’s health.
  • Education, employment, immigration, welfare benefits: These complex areas of law may result in many people feeling dissuaded to pursue any course of action they may have and therefore not receiving the essential rights that they are entitled to.

Much of the content of the consultation paper has now progressed as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which is currently progressing through a hostile committee at the House of Lords. A clause has recently been removed from the Bill concerning Police Officers having the power to subject suspects held in police stations to means testing before they can see a lawyer.

Another controversial issue that has not seemed to of been met with approval, is that legal aid will be withdrawn in future for children involved in medical negligence cases. The former cabinet minister Norman Tebbit is among those who have tabled an amendment opposing that aspect of the Bill. As previously stated in this Article the Law Society have made their views apparent in this area, stating that such a clause is a false economy, as the financial burden for children suffering from medical negligence will pass to other state departments.

Ministers have conceded that they are uncertain about the specific savings that such a Bill ( if passed ) may bring. However, they believe it is right to pursue reforms that would result in fewer confrontational court cases and more mediation to solve disputes.

The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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