The Government is woefully out of step with public opinion on the right to free legal advice say campaigners.
An online petition calling for a halt to radical new plans to cut legal aid has reached 100,000 signatures. This matter should now be debated in parliament. The Government is still considering responses to a consultation on the issue but has signalled its intention to bring in legislation to implement the cuts in Autumn 2013.
Carita Thomas, from campaigning group, Young Legal Aid Lawyers said:
“The Government created e-petitions as a “megaphone” for the public, and now the public have spoken. The plans are being rushed through while legal aid is still reeling from the worst cuts in 50 years that kicked in this April. Sheffield MP Nick Clegg said that we should see if there are alternative, less disruptive, less unpopular ways of delivering savings and I agree. These proposals are a deliberate attack on the poorest, just like the bedroom tax. They are also an attack on justice. David Davis MP said in a debate this week that the Government is in danger of getting a reputation for wanting to act above the law and this couldn’t be more clear. Everyone should have the right to choose their solicitor or challenge a decision that is wrong, and this is what the cuts will take away.”
Another member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers northern group, Chris Hilliard said:
“This mass of public votes puts the debate back on the table for the Backbench Business Committee, giving them a further chance to table a debate to allow more voices and more constituents to be heard through their MPs. 100,000 people have signed the petition, and the number is still growing. Our members are among those planning a march against the cuts on 30 July in Manchester. A rising chorus of voices is asking to be heard – the question is, how long will it take for the Ministry of Justice to act?”
NOTES TO EDITORS
- Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL), formed in 2005, is a group of lawyers committed to practising in areas of law traditionally funded by legal aid. We have around 2,000 members nationwide including students, paralegals, trainee solicitors and barristers, and qualified junior lawyers. Our members share a belief in the importance of legal aid in upholding the rule of law. We co-host the APPG on Legal Aid with the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group. YLAL’s response to the consultation is available here and a briefing produced for the most recent House of Commons debate on 27 June 2013 is available here.
- The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 brought in significant legal aid cuts, affecting mainly civil law, in April 2013. The Government is proposing a further cut of £220 million from the legal aid budget in its consultation “Transforming Legal Aid”, which closed on 4 June. The plans would remove the right to choose your own solicitor in criminal legal aid cases and introduce price competitive tendering for criminal defence work. Also included are plans to cut legal aid in many prison law cases, and a “residence test” for civil legal aid that would mean many people including homeless families, victims of domestic violence and trafficked children will no longer be able to rely on the protection of the law. The Government is now considering around 16,000 responses but from the outset has indicated its intention to implement the changes by way of secondary legislation to be introduced in Autumn 2013.
- The Save UK Justice e-petition was created by Rachel Bentley, and reached 100,000 signatures on 28 June 2013. The petition says the Ministry of Justice: “should not proceed with their plans to reduce access to justice by depriving citizens of legal aid or the right to representation by the Solicitor of their choice.” Now it has reached 100,000 signatures the Backbench Business Committee should consider the matter for a debate. Only 20 e-petitions have secured debates by reaching this threshold since 2011. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48628
- An independent poll conducted by ComRes found more than two thirds (68%) questioned agrees that at less than 0.5% of annual government spending, “legal aid is a worthwhile investment in our basic freedoms”.
- A march against the cuts to legal aid will take place in Manchester on 30 July.