Labour has hit out at the Government’s 10% cut to legal aid fees in civil cases.
Shadow justice minister Lord Bach accused ministers of being “determined to decimate social welfare law” by driving out the lowest paid lawyers who would no longer be able to afford to carry out legal aid work.
He said the Government was planing “in one fell swoop” to cut “10% from all civil fees including family fees”.
“To describe it as a rough and ready figure is a gross understatement,” he said. “It is a crude and un-thought out measure with no evidential justification whatsoever.”
He said there were no comparable cuts to legal aid for criminal cases and the result of the Government’s policy was to force the closure of community law centres.
“I would argue this shows the Government is quite ruthless when it comes to civil and legal aid and as soft as butter when it comes to criminal legal aid,” he said.
“It is though they have no sense at all of the fantastic value social welfare law has to our society allowing at comparatively cheap cost many of those who couldn’t possibly afford to get early legal advice with the result that issues are solved, courts are not full of hopeless legal cases and litigants in person.”
In a debate on the Community Legal Service (Funding) (Amendment No2) Order 2011, Lord Bach said the Government was “intent on cutting legal aid much too far and much too fast”. He added: “They really have not given any, certainly not enough, thought to the consequences of their policies either in human or financial terms.”
His concerns were echoed by other peers including Baroness Deech, chairman of the Bar Standards Board, and former Law Lord Lord Scott of Foscote.
Justice minister Lord McNally said his department had to save £2 billion of its £8 billion budget and as a result had to take “tough” decisions. “It is a key role of government, on behalf of the taxpayer, to ensure that the amount it pays for any service represents value for money. In this context it is essential that the Government ensure it only pays the rates that are necessary to secure the levels of services that are required. While this may not be welcome by those who provide services funded by legal aid it is a reality that providers of other services across the country on a daily basis.”
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