The UK’s plans to cut its 2.1-billion-pound legal aid scheme in areas such as immigration, housing and family law have provoked anger from law organizations. They argue ‘pro bono’ work will not be able to fill the gaps and that some half a million people will lose access to justice.
Some of the key facts about the proposed cuts announced in November include cutting legal aid on basic amenities.
Private family law cases will be denied legal aid funding unless domestic violence is involved.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the proposed reforms – the most severe since the legal aid scheme was established in 1949 – would save 350 million pounds by 2014-15. The current legal aid bill was running at some two billion pounds a year and one of the most expensive in the world.
The areas of legal aid to be cut include housing, medical malpractice, employment, family law, immigration, debt and welfare benefits, except where a person’s life is in danger or they risk losing their freedom or their home.
Clarke added legal aid for criminal cases would not be affected by the changes.
Cases involving domestic violence, forced marriage, or where children might be taken into care would still attract legal aid. The bereaved families, including those of service personnel, would also be eligible for assistance at inquests.
The Law Centres Federation rued that Voluntary advice organisations – law centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux would lose 77 percent of their legal aid income with changes.
Under the new system, all those with assets of 1,000 pounds or more would have to pay a minimum of 100 pounds towards their legal costs, should their cases be successful.
To make court cases more affordable, lawyers’ fees will be reduced by 10 percent.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors said there were other ways to fund legal aid, such as introducing a, levy on alcohol, arguing it was to blame for much criminal behaviour.