Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Warning over legal aid changes

Legal Aid changes are due to come into force

Solicitors have warned that people could start "taking the law into their own hands" as changes to legal aid come into force and remove swathes of areas of law from its scope.

The reforms to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) come into immediate effect as the Government moves to reduce its £2.2 billion legal aid bill by £350 million.

Private family law, such as divorce and custody battles, personal injury cases, some employment and education law, immigration cases where the person is not detained and some debt, housing and benefit issues will all be impacted.

Some law firms estimate the reforms will reduce the number of people who qualify for legal aid by 75%, meaning around 200,000 fewer cases, while barristers have warned the cuts are the biggest to civil legal aid since the system was introduced in 1949.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, warned that "people could start taking the law into their own hands as a result of an inability to seek justice following the Government's civil legal aid cuts".

Richard Miller, head of Legal Aid at the Law Society, said: "We have warned Government consistently that, as well as all the knock-on costs, the social consequences will be damaging to the whole of society, not just the vulnerable who will take the worst hit of all."

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, said "vulnerable people will suffer" as a result of the changes.

Maura McGowan QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: "As a result of Laspo, more people than ever before will find themselves going to court without legal representation. It is not just the view of the Bar - the Judiciary, the broader legal profession and legal advice centres are all saying the same thing.

"We are faced with a situation whereby access to justice is no longer being adequately funded and vulnerable people will suffer."

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