The Ministry of Justice aims to cut the Legal Aid bill by £350m a year by 2015 and says it must face “tough choices”.
When the plans were unveiled in November 2010, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said he wanted to avoid unnecessary court cases. He proposed a more “targeted civil and family scheme which will discourage people from resorting to lawyers whenever they face a problem”.
However it’s clear, from our experience and from talking with DLS service users, that the plans will have a devastating impact on many people, including some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society.
Moving the goal posts on Legal Aid eligibility will mean it will only be the very destitue and impoverished individuals who will be able to come to us for advice. In addition, the Legal Aid cuts will wipe out the majority of specialist welfare rights legal aid-funded work carried out by DLS.
Sean Rivers, our Social Welfare solicitor, asked Jonathan Djanogly the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice how he could defend the decision to remove Legal Aid from a variety of areas of law including welfare benefits, without making provision for those with disabilities to be able to have representation. He replied that that those with disabilities will have to lose out like everyone else. However he quickly added, as a defence, that they had carried out an equality impact assessment.
Julie Bishop, director of the Law Centres Federation, said 18 of the 56 law centres nationwide were particularly susceptible to closure, because legal aid accounts for more than 60% of their revenue. Legal aid rates will be cut by 10% across the board this October.
Her concerns were echoed by Bob Nightingale, chief executive of the London Legal Support Trust, who added that ‘many more’ than a third were likely to cease trading.
We urge you to join DLS in support of the Sound Off For Justice campaign.
By signing this petition you will be joining thousands of people who also believe that access to justice for society’s most vulnerable is an integral part of our legal system.
Sign this petition to today add your support. Oppose the Government’s proposed cuts to Legal Aid. Together we can stop this and retain justice for all in the UK.