WALES/ENGLAND – Attorney General: cuts to legal aid will force people to represent themselves in court

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, is to raise concerns about cuts in legal aid with the Cabinet.

Dominic Grieve said that British courts will no longer have to bow to Strasbourg when making decisions

Dominic Grieve, the shadow justice secretary      Photo: ANDREW CROWLEY

Mr Grieve has said he will pass on the fears of family lawyers that the Coalition’s cuts will force many people to try to represent themselves in court.

Critics have some “good points,” he said, though he did not oppose the Coalition’s plans.

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, has said he wants to tackle Britain’s “compensation culture” and reduce the Legal Aid budget by £350 million. He also wants to restrict the use of Conditional Fee Agreements, also known as no-win, no fee deals.

Opponents of the changes, say that they will leave some people unable to get a lawyer to raise their cases, meaning they are denied access to justice.

As well being the Government’s chief legal officer, Mr Grieve is also head of the Bar. In that capacity, he said he would pass on the worries of family lawyers to Mr Clarke.

Mr Grieve spoke after meeting family lawyers to discuss the Coalition’s proposals.

The lawyers’ concerns over possible court delays caused by an increase in the number of people representing themselves and worries over who would cover the extra work usually picked up by lawyers were “all good points”, he said.

Mr Grieve said he was not opposing the Government plans, but was prepared to pass on the lawyers’ worries.

He said: “I told them that I am not in charge of this policy; and also that the

Government is not going to change its policy because it is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to funding and what is a widespread perception that there should be cuts to legal aid.”

Ministers say that the £2.2 billion Legal Aid budget is bloated and in need of reform. They believe that many of the cuts they propose will be popular, although some have proved controversial within the Coalition.

The Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham last week passed a motion criticising plans to deny legal aid to people who want to challenge decisions to withdraw welfare payments.

Several judges have also voiced concern.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge has said the Government’s proposals would lead to “a huge increase in the incidence of unrepresented litigants”.

Lord Judge said in February that the Government’s proposals “would damage access to justice in a number of ways”, with “serious implications for the quality of justice and for the administration of the justice system”.

The campaign against the cuts is being led by the Law Society, which represents solicitors.

Des Hudson, the chief executive of the society called on ministers to think again.

“The only winners from the government’s proposed changes in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will be insurance companies and large corporations, that will now have to pay out hundreds of millions of pounds less when they commit negligence or other wrongs,” he said.

“The losers will be victims of wrongdoing, who will in future be simply too intimidated by the financial risks to seeking redress.”

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