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Dear Prime Minister,
This letter is a direct request for your intervention in the Ministry of Justice’s plans for the future of legal aid entitled Proposals for Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales. At present, the proposals on how to make savings with cuts to Legal Aid are ill-conceived, unfair and will have a detrimental effect on justice in the UK.
We believe that the Government is undertaking these cuts in full knowledge of how disastrous they will be. The Government’s own equality impact assessment has warned that the risks presented by these proposals will include “reduced social cohesion, increased criminality and costs to other government departments.”
We’d like your assistance in obtaining an explanation for these proposals and why suggestions for positive reform – that will make greater savings without compromising on care – have been ignored. We urge you now to review the proposals for positive reform. One of the biggest savings made with these alternative reforms is an efficiency drive, which is very much in line with Government aims.
We are asking you to acknowledge that vulnerable families, children, pensioners, the infirm and the unemployed will all be affected by the MoJ proposals, which contradict your recent statement that the vulnerable will not be left behind.
What the MoJ is currently proposing means that entire categories of problems faced by more than 500,000 people every year will no longer be eligible for legal aid. All cases to resolve problems caused by medical negligence; difficulties with employment, schooling, housing, debt and welfare; and most family and child access cases will be excluded.
If your child goes into hospital for a routine operation and becomes a victim of medical malpractice, you will no longer have access to Legal Aid to seek an appropriate degree of compensation.
If your child has special educational needs but the local authority is not meeting its legal obligations or denying you a place at a suitable school, you will have no right to legal help or representation.
If you live in rented accommodation and your landlord raises the rent despite what had previously been agreed, you’re on your own.
If you’re a divorced father wandering the emotional minefield of child access and you feel you are not getting enough contact with your children, your access to them and to justice is of no concern to the Government.
In all these situations vulnerable people who need help – people the Government should be protecting – will all effectively be silenced with no legal voice to contest their circumstances.
These proposals are also discriminatory and will entrench women’s inequality; women are more likely to be unable to pay for legal advice, as a result they will be disproportionately affected by these reforms.
We find it hard to imagine a more insensitive proposal than one that removes aid from the most vulnerable members of society. However, we do understand that your government is committed to dealing with the deficit and that savings need to be made.
Therefore, we have an alternative proposal for reform that will not only make savings in excess of £380million (the MoJ proposal saves £350million) but do not effect an individual’s access to justice.
The Government should know what the wider cost implications are should the legal aid service be compromised. The Lord Chief Justice has said he expects the courts will not be able to cope with the number of claimants who conduct their own cases without a lawyer.
The House of Commons Justice Select Committee said: “We are surprised that the Government is proposing to make such changes without assessing their likely impact on spending from the public purse, and we call on them to do so before taking a final decision on implementation.”
This is why we are proposing alternative reforms that make the savings your Government so desperately requires while safeguarding civil legal aid and access to justice in the UK.