Legal aid budget faces £350m cut
Plans to slash £350 million a year from the legal aid budget have been unveiled by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke.
State help will be removed from certain family law, clinical negligence, education, employment, immigration, benefits, debt and housing cases.
Exceptions will be made where domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction is involved, as well as other areas protected by law.
In a statement to MPs, Mr Clarke said the UK's legal aid system was now one of the most expensive in the world, costing £2 billion a year, and needed to make a "substantial contribution" to savings at the Ministry of Justice.
"It cannot be right that the taxpayer is footing the bill for unnecessary court cases which would never have even reached the courtroom door were it not for the fact that somebody else was paying," Mr Clarke said.
"I propose to introduce a more targeted civil and family scheme which will discourage people from resorting to lawyers whenever they face a problem, and instead encourage them to consider more suitable methods of dispute resolution.
"Legal aid will still routinely be available in civil and family cases where people's life or liberty is at stake, or where they are at risk of serious physical harm, or immediate loss of their home."
Mr Clarke also announced plans to introduce a means-tested contribution in legal aid cases and reform the way lawyers are paid, as well as to overhaul conditional fee arrangements in no-win-no-fee cases.
He told MPs: "Taken together, my reform proposals complement the wider programme of reform which I will be bringing forward to move towards a simpler justice system: One which is more responsive to public needs, which allows people to resolve their issues out of court, using simpler, more informal remedies where they are appropriate, and which encourages more efficient resolution of contested cases where necessary."
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the proposals were "among the most important published by the Government to date", acknowledging that the budget had grown to levels that were "not sustainable".