Monday, 16 April 2012

Local solicitors are worried about cuts to legal aid

Threatened cuts in legal aid will harm the most vulnerable in our society, unless the Government listens to a powerful coalition of charities and accepts House of Lords amendments when the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill returns to the House of Commons.

“If these amendments are not accepted the bill will heavily limit the amount of legal aid available to victims of domestic violence or industrial diseases such as asbestosis, and the Children's Society says 6,000 children would be denied access to advice or representation in education, welfare and immigration cases.
I have heard from solicitors who are concerned about the impact it will have locally on vulnerable Reading residents.  Justice shouldn't be the preserve of the wealthy elite - we should all be able to get representation and it's especially important in cases like domestic violence or for children.  I would urge Reading's Conservative MPs to consider the needs of their constituents in voting on this issue.
The joint letter (below) is signed by leaders from two dozen organisations including SCOPE, MIND, Disability Rights UK, the Fawcett Society, the Child Poverty Action Group and Mumsnet.

Charities’ Joint Letter on Legal Aid
Dear Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister,
Lords’ amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill
When you entered office in May 2010, you made a commitment that your Government would protect the most vulnerable. Yet you are now in danger of cutting legal aid for children, disabled people and victims of domestic violence.
We urge you to accept the sensible and considered amendments to the LASPO Bill made by the House of Lords, so that access to civil justice is protected for these vulnerable people.
Prime Minister, when you launched this Bill last year, you said: “If you heard of a way to make your policy better but you did nothing about it, that's not strength, that's not leadership. The tough, strong thing to do is to say yes, let's make this plan better."
Deputy Prime Minister, immediately before joining the Government in May 2010, you stated that a government containing Liberal Democrats would “usher in an era when the highest standards of evidence are seen as the baseline for judging policy-making.”
Yet your Government risks ignoring the advice of an enormous range of academics, charities and legal experts, including representatives from all parties and the crossbenches in the House of Lords, who have provided evidence that the social costs of this Bill will be extremely significant, and the fiscal savings minimal or non-existent.
We are glad that the House of Lords have amended some parts of the Bill that were most likely to lead to unintended consequences and higher costs for taxpayers. These amendments combined have an upfront cost of only £24.7m which could be saved from elsewhere in the legal aid budget. Why, for example, is the Government penalising vulnerable people yet choosing not to recover legal aid from the frozen assets of rich criminals which could save £15m a year?
The Lords’ amendments are firmly grounded in the best available evidence and substantially improve the Bill. We believe they will make your Government’s legal aid policy better and we urge you to consider them with an open mind.
Yours sincerely
Peter Walsh, Chief Executive, Action against Medical Accidents
Stephen Remington, CEO, Action for Blind People
Richard Jenner, Director, Advice Services Alliance
Steve Johnson, Director, Advice UK
John Holmström, Assistant Chief Executive, Brighton Housing Trust
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Geraldine Blake, Chief Executive, Community Links
Liz Sayce, Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK
Anna Bird, Deputy Chief Executive, The Fawcett Society
Jacky Everard - Centre Director, Hastings Advice and Representation Centre
James Kenrick and Mandy Wilkins, Co-Chairs, JustRights
Terrence Stokes, CEO, Lasa
Julie Bishop, Chief Executive, Law Centres Federation
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
Ms Farah Nazeer, Director of External Affairs, Motor Neurone Disease Association
Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive, MS Society
Justine Roberts, CEO and Co-Founder, Mumsnet
Deborah Jack, Chief Executive, NAT (National Aids Trust)
Jamie Hewitt, Government Affairs Manager, National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society
Emma Scott, Director, Rights of Women
Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive, Scope
Diana Fawcett, Director of Operations, Shelter
Rachel Maskell, National Officer, Unite
Barbara Rayment, Director, Youth Access