Legal aid: Islington motion at conference

Last year I joined local campaigners demonstrating against damaging changes to the legal aid system.

And this weekend, we took that campaign to party conference in Liverpool. Islington’s motion on Access to Justice was adopted by conference after debate on Saturday. I had the pleasure of proposing the motion which was seconded by campaigning lawyer & Lib Dem Cllr Greg Foxsmith.

The Government’s Carter reforms seek to impose a fixed fee scheme on legal aid practices. This will hurt vulnerable clients, and undermine access to justice because it will fail to cover the extra costs of the most complex cases. We argued that instead of forcing these plans through, the Government should pilot any new arrangements so that the costs and benefits can be judged in practice, so if it doesn’t work, we don’t destroy our whole legal aid system as a result.

It’s not only Lib Dems who condemn the Government’s plans. The Law Society estimate that as many as 800 law practices may abandon legal aid as a result of these proposals, equivalent to a quarter of all current providers of legal aid advice.

The Government’s own proposals for a unified contract for civil legal aid have already been found to break EU regulations.

What is more, the House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee has investigated the plans and found a host of problems. Black and ethnic minority lawyers and their clients will be disproportionately disadvantaged by these proposals.

There is already a breakdown in the relationship between the Legal Services Commission and legal aid providers, which is at crisis point. And this is because the Government has introduced these plans too quickly, in too rigid a way and with insufficient evidence.

Legal aid is one of the cornerstones of a fair and decent society. It’s tragic that having survived years of Tory government, legal aid is under attack from Labour. Lawyers turned politicians like Islington South MP Emily Thornberry talk about supporting justice; meaningless, when they vote to cut it.


1 Comment »

  1. […] justice firms. The Government’s legal aid cuts – which I raised at Lib Dem Spring conference back in March – are really beginning to […]

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