Legal aid cuts 'crude and brutal'


Joanna Lumley has backed the Sound Off For Justice campaign

Proposed cuts to the legal aid budget will cost more than they save and could leave more than half a million people “silenced in court”, legal experts have warned.

The Bar Council and the Law Society, representing barristers and solicitors in England and Wales, said the cuts could leave hundreds of thousands of people unrepresented.

The warning comes as veteran campaigner Joanna Lumley backed the Sound Off For Justice campaign against Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s plans to axe civil legal aid for a wide range of disputes, including those over relationship break-ups, school admissions and expulsions, as well as clinical negligence.

The proposals would help save £350 million over the next four years, Mr Clarke said when he launched the Ministry of Justice’s Green Paper last November.

But actress and Gurkha campaigner Ms Lumley said that without legal aid, cases like the Gurkha Justice Campaign “could never have been fought, let alone won”.

“Everyone has a right to be heard,” she said. “I believe justice is only just if it is available to everyone.”

Stephen Cobb QC, chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, said: “The threats posed by the Government’s proposals are real and potentially brutal. We fear these attempted cuts, being so crude and brutal, will cost more than they save.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors, also criticised the proposals, saying they would mean more than half a million people each year “find themselves unrepresented and ultimately ‘silenced in court'”.

Linda Lee, the society’s president, said: “We recognise that in this tough economic climate tough decisions need to be made, but these must not risk doing lasting damage to access to justice. We believe what is currently on the table is just another example of panic-stricken cuts.

“We believe these cuts are ill conceived and unfair and that the Government risks doing long-lasting damage to justice in this country. Sound Off For Justice aims to give the public the voice to say no.”

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