By cutting legal aid the government will incur further costs of at least £139 million, a new report has revealed.
The King’s College London (KCL) report, “Unintended Consequences: the cost of the Government’s Legal Aid Reforms”, shows that the cuts proposed in the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill will give rise to unbudgeted costs which will undermine the Ministry of Justice’s proposed contributions to the government’s deficit reduction plan.
The report comes just as the Bill will return to the House of Lords to be debated.
“This research undermines the Government’s economic rationale for changing the scope of legal aid by casting doubt on their claims of realising savings to the public purse,” the report author, respected academic Dr. Graham Cookson said. “Without a trial, it is impossible to say for certain what the impact of the proposals will be, just as it is impossible for the Government to assert that there will be a net saving of £270 million per annum.”
The report supports the Sound Off for Justice Campaign – the Law Society’s campaign to stop the government cuts to legal aid which the Refugee Council supports.
Under the current proposals, while most asylum matters remain eligible for legal aid, all immigration cases will be removed from scope. This means, for example, that refugees applying for family reunion will be unable to seek free legal help, and some separated children and victims of trafficking will also be unable to access legal advice.
Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said: “This welcome report suggests that not only will slashing legal aid force some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including people who have fled conflict and persecution, to go without legal support, but will also be of little benefit to the economy or the taxpayer. It is unacceptable that vulnerable people are having their right to justice taken away, but particularly when the government’s reasons for doing so are in doubt.”
Ms. Covey said it was already very difficult for asylum seekers and refugees, including children, to find legal help. “If the Bill goes ahead, they will no longer be eligible for legal advice on important matters such as family reunion, wrongly having financial support withdrawn, and for many victims of trafficking,” Ms. Covey said.
Refugee Council has strongly urged the government to consider the Law Society’s alternative proposals to the cuts, “to ensure those that need access to justice the most will still be able to get it.”
“The Law Society accepts the need to achieve savings, but this report confirms that much of the Ministry of Justice’s claimed savings are being achieved at the expense of other parts of Government,” Desmond Hudson, CEO of the Law Society said. “This is kamikaze accounting and will do little to tackle the deficit while sacrificing access to justice. Should we be promoting our justice system internationally while denying access to ordinary citizens?”