Legal aid bills target "the UK's most vulnerable people"
Charities and lawyers have said the government's planned cost-saving changes to the legal aid system
for women, children and families.
Currently under consideration by MPs, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
aims to save £350m a year.
Although the government insists the most vulnerable will be unaffected
, campaigners say 600,000 people will lose legal aid
, with many left no choice but to represent themselves in court.
A number of groups are calling for a re-think
. These include Women's Aid, the Children's Commissioner, Gingerbread, the Bar Council, Liberty and the Family Law Bar Association, whose chairman, Stephen Cobb QC, said the cuts will be bad for children, women and families.
"We face the real prospect that many children and women who have been victims of domestic abuse will have to endure the further trauma of being cross-examined by their alleged perpetrator, yet will not be eligible for legal aid."Angela Jackman
, Partner at Simpson Millar LLP agreed that specialist legal aid lawyers are a vitally important
resource, depended upon by some of society's most vulnerable people.
"Contrary to misconceptions, legal aid lawyers have not spent years milking a system for their own ends," he said. "In fact, payments to legal aid lawyers are steadily drying up, leading to UK-wide closures of firms and drop-in centres. This means it is increasingly hard to get the professional legal help that's so crucial to so many."
Mr Cobb continued: "We are facing a disturbing new landscape in which 600,000 people will no longer receive legal aid, 68,000 children will be affected by the removal of legal aid in family cases and there will be 75% fewer private law cases in court."
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "Denying victims of domestic violence legal support, or increasingly making victims endure cross-examination by their assailants, will remove the vital protection many vulnerable women depend upon."
Ms Cooper added that women and children were "bearing the brunt of this government's actions".
A Ministry of Justice spokesman insisted that legal aid will remain available if there is evidence of violence or abuse. "£400m is available each year for these cases. However, at more than £2 billion a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world.
"It is also a system that has grown to encourage lengthy acrimonious and sometimes unnecessary court proceedings at the taxpayers' expense."