Legal Aid shake-up to affect the most vulnerable


Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has been widely criticised for slashing legal aid for the people who need it most.

Clinical Negligence compensation claims and Employment disputes will all be affected, as will divorce cases.

The Law Society has warned that thousands of vulnerable families will be left without legal representation as they simply will not be able to afford to bring their cases to court.

The Future of Legal Aid

Mr Clarke has said that legal aid will now only be available if either “life or liberty” is at stake.

Until now legal aid has been administered by the Legal Services Commission with an annual budget of over £2billion. But now the coalition government is hoping to make savings of £350million – with more than half of that money being axed from Family Law cases such as divorce, child access and non-violent disputes. In those cases, people will not be eligible for legal aid and couples thinking of marriage are being encouraged to take out ‘before the event’ insurance to cover the legal costs of divorce later down the line.

Clinical Negligence compensation claims will now also not be eligible for legal aid. Even the Law Society has expressed concern, questioning how families in clinical negligence compensation cases would be able to fight for justice.

However, Mr Clarke told the BBC that the best way for people unable to pay legal bills in cases such as medical negligence compensation claims would be to use no-win-no-fee lawyers.

Legal aid has also been scrapped for cases involving employment, such as Employment Tribunals, and special educational needs and school exclusion appeals.

It will still be available for debt and housing matters where someone’s home is at immediate risk and for Family Law cases involving domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction.

Where legal aid is available, a new means-tested system will be introduced – anyone with assets worth more than £1,000 will have to pay at least £100 towards their legal costs. And in no-win-no-fee cases, legal costs will now be taken from the damages awarded and not paid by the defendant.

The Shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie feared that agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau would be in danger of closing down if they had cuts in legal aid funding, and he added that the new rules were "skewed towards hitting the very poorest in society".

Bryan Nott, Partner at Simpson Millar LLP commented: "Restricting legal aid to cases where life or liberty is at stake reduces the rights of people with limited means to a 'subsistence' level. Things will be done to the less well off that they simply have to put up with. On a case by case basis perhaps this will not make much difference. When you add all of those cases together the collective injustice that will exist will make us a poorer society, a less stable society and a society that is not at ease with itself."

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