We have recently had a response from the government to the growing number of critics of its decimation of the legal aid scheme.
Writing in the Guardian, Lord McNally set out their case and claimed that their aim was to cut to cut costs not fair trials.
He refers to the total cost of legal aid in this country at about £2bn. But, remarkably he then only goes on to discuss criminal legal aid, as if the whole budget was spent on that. He is silent on virtual waste land that exists in relation to advice on debt, housing, welfare benefits and family problems.
Week on week we are hearing of the closures of Law Centres which can no longer afford to help those in greatest need. One Citizens Advice Bureau says that it can no longer offer representation in relation to Welfare Benefits Appeals as they simply do not have the resources available since legal aid was withdrawn.It is telling that those who appealed against ATOS decisions on capacity to work had a staggeringly high succeess rate -
The minister seems to have nothing to say about these cuts. The ones which target the most vulnerable. Does he accept that they are indefensible?
He does make the predictable comment that the critics are mainly lawyers concerned about their own pockets – ‘I can understand why some in the legal profession feel bruised and are worried about how this might affect them.’ This is not only shallow but completely misconceived. The main providers of welfare benefits advice have been CABx and similar voluntary agencies.
Those lawyers who are likely to be hit, especially by price driven tendering, will be those who do the most difficult work, at the lowest pay for those most in need –
Lawyers are not complaining because of their own concerns. They are complaining because it is wrong.
Lord McNally says that suggestions that the poor will be excluded from criminal legal aid, are ‘simply preposterous’.
He does not say the same about excluding the poor from virtually the entire legal system.