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Judge warns over legal aid cuts

The Big Society will be "the big loser" if people feel they are being denied access to justice, the only female justice at the Supreme Court has said.

Lady Hale warned that the Government's proposed cuts to legal aid would have a "disproportionate effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in society".

Her comments, which come ahead of the second reading of the Government's Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill in the Commons, follow warnings from campaigners that the planned cuts will put publicly funded legal advice and representation "beyond the reach of vast swathes of the British population".

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke plans to cut legal aid for most private family law cases, clinical negligence, employment, immigration, some debt and housing issues, some education cases and welfare benefits.

The legal aid system in England and Wales is one of the most expensive in the world as it encourages lengthy, acrimonious and sometimes unnecessary court proceedings at taxpayers' expense, he said

He said "alternative, less adversarial means of resolving problems" should be used, as he insisted that "fundamental rights to access to justice will be protected".

But Lady Hale said: "These plans will of course have a disproportionate effect upon the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

"It is now planned to remove legal aid altogether from most civil and family law cases."

She added that there was a "a well-known ironic saying" that "in England, justice is open to all - like the Ritz".

In a speech to the Law Society, entitled Equal Access to Justice in the Big Society, Lady Hale went on: "My rather pessimistic conclusion is that we cannot look at access to the courts and access to lawyers in isolation from one another."

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